School Health and Wellness//
February 12, 2023
Mental health is an essential component of student success. Students struggling with poor mental health will face overall poor academic outcomes.
According to a 2022 YouthTruth student survey, over 50% of students at every high school grade level cited depression, stress, and anxiety as obstacles to learning—making these conditions ubiquitous in the culture of American teenagers. Additionally, the survey results indicated the percentage of students who feel happy about their lives declines 3–12 grades.
What is even more alarming is that fewer than half of secondary students—regardless of grade level, gender, race, or LGBTQ+ status—report they have an adult at school they can talk to when they feel upset or stressed, or have a problem.
It is abundantly clear mental health and academic performance are intertwined. Schools must take action if they intend to maintain their commitment to their students' overall well-being and academic excellence.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Academic Performance
Mental health challenges affect every facet of student life. Low self-esteem leads to decreased motivation and a lack of confidence when completing tasks or taking tests. Anxiety can make it difficult for students to study or attend classes. Depression can lead to decreased focus and concentration, making it hard for a student to remain engaged or complete work on time. But those are just a few of the complex challenges students face when managing their mental health and academic performance.
Left unaddressed, students with mental health challenges can experience adverse outcomes in their young lives. These include:
- trouble making friends,
- inability to learn, concentrate, or complete work,
- poor grades,
- suspension, and
Ultimately, left without support, students may even consider death by suicide.
When a student's unique needs are recognized, understood, and supported, they can showcase their strengths and reach their true potential. Student mental health needs are part of them, and it is your job as an educator to understand mental health implications in their learning.
What about students with learning differences?
Learning differences such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also play a harmful role in academic performance, particularly when they are not addressed in a learning plan. In fact, 70% of students with learning disabilities experience more symptoms of anxiety than students without learning disabilities, with anxiety and reading disorders co-occurring in approximately one in four students.
For example, students with ADHD may need help focusing, even when placed in supportive learning environments. Poorly managed ADHD and learning could lead them to fall behind in their studies or fail classes altogether. In the most extreme cases, students could experience bullying because of their ADHD, leaving them feeling stigmatized, which could impact an undiagnosed or co-occurring mental health challenge.
Schools must recognize that all mental health conditions are real and take steps to provide accommodations. Doing so better allows students the opportunity to learn effectively despite any mental health challenges they may be facing.
Mental Health and Its Impact on School Community
Mental health issues among students have far-reaching implications for school communities at large.
- Teachers may become overwhelmed trying to manage students with mental health needs within the classroom setting.
- Counseling centers and learning support specialists may become overburdened with requests for help.
- Parents may be concerned about their child's ability to succeed academically.
- Other members of the school community may struggle with how best to support those in need.
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Solutions to Consider
Schools should implement policies that empower teachers with more flexibility to accommodate students with special needs due to mental illness or disability—for example, allowing extra time on assignments or tests without penalty for late submissions.
Additionally, schools can train staff members in caring and thoughtful ways to manage and support students with mental health issues.
Finally, schools should offer additional resources—counseling sessions, therapy groups, or telehealth services—to support counselors and nursing staff who are already overwhelmed.
Telehealth allows students to connect with a professional on the student’s terms, by the way of technology they're familiar with—reducing the social stigma teens may feel in seeking mental health support. In addition, with telehealth, teens can receive care without worrying about being seen or traveling to a therapist’s office with their parents.
Taking Telehealth to Another Level
Schools nationwide are struggling to provide the support and qualified personnel needed to address mental health. Even if your school has an active counseling program, your staff can't be available 24/7/365 to your entire student population.
ISM's Wellness in Independent Secondary Education (WISE) program provides students in grades 9–12 access to mental health professionals 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through a custom phone app. Students can connect with professionals by calling or texting—the response is almost instantaneous.
Through on-demand access to an expansive network of licensed and experienced mental health and medical professionals, students receive support for:
- mental health—including anxiety and stress;
- primary and psychiatric care coordination;
- sexual and interpersonal violence support and advocacy;
- cognitive behavior therapy (CBT);
- suicide awareness, assessment, and prevention; and
- well-being and resiliency.
WISE is tailored to your school's unique needs—and complementary to your existing resources. Our goal is to empower your administrators, counseling services, and faculty members to provide the best support possible for your students.
For more information about WISE, please visit our webpage.
As a school leader, early identification and detection of mental health concerns support students to succeed academically. By considering flexible policies, providing appropriate training for staff members, and offering resources such as counseling sessions, therapy groups, or telehealth aimed explicitly at helping students cope, your school will be better equipped than ever to deal effectively with these complex issues—ensuring all young people reach their full potential both inside and outside the classroom walls.