Working in education is exciting yet highly demanding, especially when teenagers are in the picture. The impact that a teacher may have on a teen’s development and
well-being is profound, and as a result the role of the teacher often
extends beyond the traditional classroom. This can be challenging
for some teachers, particularly when faced with mental health
problems that youth may be experiencing.
The mental health of students in schools is an often overlooked,
yet extremely relevant issue for today’s educator. In Canada,
between 15 and 20 percent of youth suffer from a mental disorder
that would benefit from professional care, and six to eight percent
of young people suffer from depression. By learning how to
recognize and address adolescent mental health problems, as well
as how to appropriately refer those young people suffering from
mental health problems to health professionals for treatment,
educators have a unique opportunity to play an important role
in the health and well being of Canadian youth. It is therefore
imperative that teachers are equipped with the practical tools and
knowledge required to recognize and intervene appropriately in
situations where mental illness may be a concern.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is
“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her
own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work
productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to
his or her community”. Although it is often overlooked, mental
health is as important to a person’s well-being as their physical
health, particularly during the turbulent years of adolescence.
During adolescence the brain undergoes a significant period of
growth and development, which continues into the twenties. This
means that during secondary school students are passing through
a vulnerable time of neurodevelopment that can have a serious
impact in all aspects of their life. Indeed, adolescence is a time
when many new behaviours begin to emerge, including changes
in attention, motivation and risk-taking behaviour.
When the brain (or part of the brain) is not working well or
is working in the wrong way, a person may experience many
different kinds of problems, such as difficulty thinking or
focusing, extreme emotional highs and lows, or sleep problems.
When these symptoms significantly disrupt a person’s life, we
say that the person has a mental disorder or a mental illness,
the causes of which are extremely complicated and may be the
result of a complex interaction of genetics, environment and
MENTAL HEALTH IN SCHOOLS: HOW TEACHERS HAVE THE
POWER TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Leigh Meldrum, David Venn & Stan Kutcher | Sun Life Financial, Dalhousie University and IWK Health Centre
How Does Mental Health Affect Students?
The statistics regarding youth mental health problems are
staggering. At any given time in Canada, approximately twenty
percent of young people may be suffering...