Schools supporting mental health

Schools supporting mental health

While parents mostly consider academic performance of schools above every other thing when choosing schools for their wards, most proprietors understandably also dwell largely on academic work in order to meet parental expectations. 


It is important, however, that schools invest in the learning environment by ensuring that children enjoy a positive experience that makes them excited at the mere thought of school.

 This requires that attention is paid to the mental health of both students (especially adolescents) and staff members. School presents a great window of opportunity for the detection of early mental health conditions. This is because 50 per cent of mental health conditions among adults emerge by the age of 14.

 According to UNICEF, an estimated one in seven adolescents globally experiences mental health conditions that are mostly not diagnosed early or given prompt care in a timely manner.


A mental health condition is a broad term that embraces neurodevelopmental, emotional and behavioural disorders. Bullying, sexual violence, physical and emotional violence and other forms of trauma are risk factors for mental health conditions among both the victims and the perpetrators.

 In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reported that one in every three adolescents experiences bullying and physical violence.

The most common mental health conditions that adolescents can face as a result of these toxic experiences include anxiety and depression. If the symptoms of these conditions are not easily recognised by families and communities, educational and health care systems must be the safety net and last resort to identify these for early intervention.

Strategies that schools can use to achieve safe, supportive and connective relationships include greeting students individually each morning, creating activities for students and teachers to get to know each other and allowing students to express themselves through different extra-curricular activities, such as art, music, dance, creative writing and more.

Mental health discussions can be integrated within school curricular too by discussing topics in the classroom such as understanding feelings, managing intense emotions and teaching coping strategies like mindfulness and relaxation. 


Adolescent guidance and counselling centres (safe spaces) must be available and run by trained persons competent enough to identify and address mental health disturbances. They should be empowered enough to provide emotional support safely.  

It is a shame to hear about stories of teachers and other adults in schools rather preying on children sexually. Teachers must be held to high standards because of their role in loco parentis.

They play a crucial role in modelling positive mental and physical health behaviours, and also helping to promote positive and inclusive learning environment. They should be proactive enough to report the maltreatment that some children may be experiencing. Appropriate referrals for students experiencing mental health conditions should also be made.


This is why mental health awareness must be raised in schools. Teachers are empowered, and children are provided with the necessary life skills programmes that will build them up socio-emotionally in order to facilitate smooth learning.

If our schools would insist on psychoeducation in mental health as a priority with regard to continuous professional development among teachers, many students would benefit from their efforts.

Schools must recognise the importance of encouraging good mental health among staff members too. By ensuring all staff members have access to mental health services, they would receive the care they need to cope with their own stressors.

Teachers who may be having underlying or previously unknown mental health needs will also be identified and cared for. Mental health promotion and prevention programmes in schools have an impact that cannot be underestimated.

In addition to all the individual physical and mental gains, every $1 invested in anxiety and depression prevention can potentially yield a $4 return according to a 2016 study. 

The writer is a Child Development Expert/ Fellow at Zero-to-three Academy, USA.
E-mail: [email protected]

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