Be Aware of Children’s Mental Health

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The teacher softly sighed as she raised her voice one more time, “Alex, please sit down and start on your work!”

Alex heard the teacher and headed back to his seat to get back to work on his assignment. However, he got distracted by some classmates and headed over to their desks to see what was going on.

Alex is just one of the students that the teacher has had to keep an eye on over the school year. She has noticed that several of her students in class have had various behavioral difficulties that represent a range of mental disorders.

This teacher is not alone in dealing with mental disorders among students. In a typical elementary school with a 100 students in each grade level, there are seven children like Alex who have difficulty with paying attention, staying organized, and finishing tasks. There are four more children in that grade who get into frequent fights and display oppositional behavior.

In that same elementary school, there are three children in that grade who have anxiety that is so severe that it affects their academic performance and ability to make friends. Another two children constantly feel down and have difficulty doing any work at all. Finally, one child has autism and has difficulty with social skills and making friends.

In all, every grade in each elementary school has on average 17 students out of a 100 who have some type of mental disorder. Fortunately, the school has mental health specialists such as school psychologists, school counselors, and social workers who can help these children. The extra supports these personnel provide can mean all the difference, as it allows these children the chance to succeed.

The mental health specialists who are in the schools can positively impact children’s mental health in a range of ways. The school counselor might run a weekly social skills group that focuses on appropriate ways to interact with others. The school psychologists might consult with a teacher about a child’s disruptive behavior in the classroom and figure out a way to intervene that does not resort to punishment. The social worker might arrange for a child to access an after school program while her parents are working.

All of these efforts can make a significant difference for the child and in how the whole school functions. Of course mental health efforts in schools are not only for those children with mental disorders as all children can benefit from good mental health habits. The more tools that children can learn to address their own mental health, the better prepared they will be to meet life’s various challenges.

May is mental health awareness month. As the school year comes to a close, it is time to acknowledge all of the efforts made in the schools to address children’s mental health. Say thank you to the many school personnel who often don’t get the recognition they deserve for their efforts. This includes school psychologists, social workers, school counselors, nurses and the many other support personnel who work behind the scenes to ensure that school is a safe place where all children can learn.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on May 24, 2015

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