A lot of high schoolers talking about mental health in a school that has built mental health awareness.

7 Tips for How to Build Mental Health Awareness in Schools

4 min.

By identifying the warning signs of mental health conditions and providing mental health support, schools can help at-risk students seek mental health care.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Updated: November 30, 2023


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Amid a worsening youth mental health crisis, teachers and administrators are increasingly working to build mental health awareness in schools—an at times daunting, yet crucial, task. According to the World Health Organization, about one in seven young people ages 10 to 19 are currently facing a mental health issue worldwide. However, only half of young people are estimated to receive the mental health treatment they need. 

This is where schools come into play: studies suggest that 70% of youth mental health conditions can be addressed with early intervention, highlighting the importance of identifying mental health warning signs in students and connecting them with support. Below, we delve into tips for building mental health awareness in schools and the role schools can play in addressing the youth mental health crisis.  

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7 tips for ​​how to build mental health awareness in schools

As mentioned, schools can help students by identifying the warning signs of mental health conditions and referring them to proper mental healthcare before their mental health issues become more serious. Although mental health education in schools remains sparse, educators and administrators can support students by offering mental health resources and support. Here are seven tips that schools can take to build mental health awareness in and outside of the classroom: 

Provide teachers with professional development

In order for teachers to best support students’ mental health, it’s important to equip them with the knowledge and skills to offer initial support and guide students to appropriate resources. Schools can provide comprehensive training for teachers and staff on recognizing signs of mental health issues. These trainings could be professional development sessions on social-emotional learning or sessions that explore how to incorporate mental health education into their curriculum. 

Promote positive self-esteem 

Research shows that positive self-esteem can help protect children and adolescents from developing mental health conditions. It helps students build resilience, reduces stigma, prevents bullying, and encourages them to seek help when needed. Teachers can help students build positive self-esteem by teaching them skills to resolve interpersonal conflicts and reminding them of their strengths. Promoting self-esteem sets the stage for a supportive and inclusive school environment where students can thrive academically, emotionally, and socially.

Encourage balanced eating and body neutrality

Balanced eating has been linked to improved mental health, so schools should provide balanced, nutrient-dense meals and educate students on the importance of eating a range of foods. Also, nutrient-dense foods give students the energy they need to take care of themselves, succeed in school, and maintain good mental health. It’s also important for schools to teach and remind students that their body shape is not as important as their physical and mental health (a concept known as body neutrality). 

Provide safe outlets to manage big feelings 

One way to do this is by establishing designated safe spaces within the school where students can retreat if they need a moment to relax and gather their thoughts. These spaces should promote a sense of calm and privacy. If a room isn’t available, educators and administrators can consider incorporating physical activity or meditation into classroom and school routines—practices that have been shown to help students improve their ability to handle stress, anxiety, and other big feelings that may arise.

Set an open-door policy 

As a teacher, you can make it easier and more convenient for students to communicate their mental health concerns and issues by explicitly offering to listen and provide support. Teachers can also conduct regular check-ins with students to gauge their emotional well-being. This can be done through surveys, informal conversations, or designated time during class where students can express their feelings and concerns.

A teacher set an open-door policy to build mental health awareness in her school.

Involve caregivers 

Find opportunities to encourage parents to be proactive in supporting their children’s mental health. This could look like engaging parents in mental health discussions through workshops or informational sessions. Also, schools can share relevant mental health resources with students’ family members, such as the educational materials found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.

Offer counseling referrals

Having a dedicated counselor can offer students a safe space to discuss their concerns and receive guidance on managing stress and emotional challenges during the course of the school day. And, young people are almost as likely to receive mental health services in an educational setting as they are to receive treatment from a mental health provider—in 2019, 15% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 received mental health services at school, while 17% saw an external specialty provider, data shows. If there isn’t a counselor on-site, schools can provide external referrals.

Mental health support for students at Charlie Health

If you are a teacher or administrator looking to refer a young person to additional mental health support, Charlie Health is here to help. 

Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) offers more than once-weekly support for young people (including those in high school, college, and middle school) dealing with a range of complex mental health conditions. Our intensive program combines group sessions, individual counseling, and family therapy to provide holistic healing. Since Charlie Health is personalized and virtual, we offer sessions at convenient times to allow students to maintain their day-to-day routine and school schedule outside of treatment. 

If you think Charlie Health may be a fit for a young person in your life who is dealing with a complex mental health issue, fill out this short form to get started with a free assessment today. 

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