Student Mental Health: More than Growing Pains

When an educator begins to notice that a student’s behavior starts to change and grades slump, they should always be aware that it could be part of a larger issue. Most people wouldn’t assume that negative changes such as these could be related to mental health, however the CDC estimates that 13-20% of American students may have some form of mental disorder.  Difficulties socializing with others, violent outbursts, sudden weight gain or loss, obsessions or fixations, or even sluggishness can be signs of an underlying mental health issue.

Teachers can be an invaluable tool in early diagnosis of mental health issues. They spend so much time with students observing them in both educational and social environments. Recognizing the signs of some of the most common mental health disorders can help teachers work with parents, counselors, and even mental health professionals to get the students the help they need.

The American Psychological Association (APA) explains that the mental health of a child is equally important as their physical health. A student with mental health issues can struggle just as much if not more than a student with the flu. Such conditions can impede a student’s ability to process information, socialize with his or her peers, or even responding appropriately to authority.

Common Student Mental Health Issues and Early Signs

The APA also estimates that as many as 15 million students in the US could be diagnosed with mental health disorders, but only about 7 percent of those are getting the care they need. In order to improve on this percentage, it is important to be informed and recognize the signs of the more common mental health issues that a student may face.

  1. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common diagnoses of students in the US. Almost 7 percent of school-aged children are diagnosed with this disorder and can cause short attention spans, excessive talking, constant interruptions, and hyperactivity. Most students have success with medications, however these same symptoms can be early signs of other mental disorders such as bipolarism.
  2. Depression can be the cause of tardiness, drops in grades, rises in absences, general loss of interaction or motivation. Parents and teachers will need to also watch for excessive sleepiness, sudden lack of hygiene, isolation and incomplete assignments.
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is usually signaled by chronic, long-term thoughts and repetitive behaviors. These obsessions can be a major distraction to the student resulting in incomplete or missing school work, low grades, and lack of classroom concentration.
  4. Anxiety can be either generalized or situation specific. While many students suffer from test anxiety, students with anxiety may have fear of failure or new experiences resulting in a paralyzation or mental shut down. These episodes can result in panic or anxiety attack where the student has a rapid pulse, trouble breathing, and nausea.
  5. Eating Disorders such as Bulimia and Anorexia can affect both male and female students. Onset of these disorders usually occurs in young teenagers and is identified by extreme unhealthy eating habits, obsession with food and weight, and skewed self-image. There is often no academic indication of eating disorders making them even more difficult to recognize.
  6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be one of the most difficult mental health issues for an educator to notice in the classroom. The unpredictable and significant mood swings can be dismissed as hormones, but are usually far more severe than average. PTSD develops in children that have witnessed or survived a traumatic event and can lead to flashbacks of the event. Educators should learn about the large list of symptoms that are associated with PTSD. A short list of the most common symptoms include self-harm, hostility, and depression.

Early detection is key to proper treatment. The CDC notes that teachers are often the best detectors of the early signs of mental health issues, but only a mental health professional can diagnose a mental health disorder. Parents should be informed of their child’s behavior and referred to a mental health professional for a consultation. If a student is able to get proper diagnosis and treatment early, then the student should be able to reach their full potential.

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