Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Mental health disorders are becoming a global crisis, and teenagers are at high risk. Adolescence is a time of development, both physically and emotionally. Pressure begins to throw itself upon them, leading to heightened stress, as most are well aware of by now. Other factors that contribute to stress levels include peer pressure, the need for self-discovery, the search for independence, and the increased dependence on technology.
These contributing factors generate shocking statistics regarding mental health in teenagers. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1 in every 7 people aged 10-19 has a mental health disorder, keeping in mind that 1 in 6 people are in this age range. Behavioural disorders, depression, and anxiety are the main causes of illness in teenagers. For those aged 15-19, suicide is the fourth main cause of death. In 2019 in the USA, 1 in 6 teenagers had been known to have made a suicide plan. The demanding and oppressive nature of modern society paves the way for such indices, but at what cost?
Aside from being a major threat to the well-being and life of students, poor mental health is also highly detrimental to education. Overall engagement and enthusiasm decrease, with frequent absences, and difficulties to focus and participate in class lessons or discussions. Similarly, it grows more difficult to concentrate as alternative worries consume their minds. It is common to feel much more drained and less energetic than usual, making it far more difficult to overcome the obstacles they are facing internally and externally. Thus, this not only takes a massive toll on their school life but their social life as well. Ultimately, this sets back academic performance, which can lead to long-term difficulties to progress and building on their knowledge, as bits and pieces end up being left out from the bigger picture, and increasing the likelihood of dropping out.
Nonetheless, there is not a single experience that all teenagers will have when struggling with poor mental health. This is, of course, due to the fact that a plethora of mental health disorders exist, but also since each individual reacts to health issues differently. Some may struggle with the above factors, while others will only show some, or not at all. Often, mental health symptoms are used by the general public. Although there is scientific evidence to back them and their relevance, many people are able to veil themselves, seeming entirely happy and well. Because of this, monitoring does not mean only observing students; it means actively seeking out ways to help and support them, regardless of the magnitude of their issues. However, this can not come only from teacher and adult speculation, but also from students themselves, as open communication is key to effective monitoring. However, when frameworks for this are not set out, it becomes nearly impossible for students to seek help within their school environment.
To many students, school is a second home, in which large portions of their day are spent. It can also serve as a source of additional pressure, worries, and stress. But still, school is highly important for the development (both mentally, socially, and emotionally) of the youth. This is why schools are a strategically beneficial location to implement monitoring efforts. Unlike their homes, teenagers are surrounded by others their age (aside from just siblings) and can be immersed in a bigger community and support system. Teenagers struggle to understand just how much they may require assistance, and others may feel they have nobody to turn to. This is why school communities should strive to implement strategies to monitor students’ mental health. Although the word ‘monitor’ may create a restrictive and strict image, the following guidelines aim for monitoring that is comfortable and respectful. And so, three main principles to implement in student monitoring:
Advocacy for mental health
This guideline is the first for a reason. The first step to seeking help is understanding and recognizing that you need it in the first place. However, how is this possible when teenagers are unable to recognize key symptoms of mental health issues in the first place? Because of this, teaching students about the symptoms of a wide range of mental health issues is a good place to start.
Aside from enabling self-reflection and understanding, this will help to create a safe environment for students to actively acknowledge and discuss their mental health without viewing it as a “touchy” subject. Fewer students will feel the need to repress their struggles, and more will come forward for help. Teaching students about healthy coping mechanisms and how to take care of themselves and de-stress could also benefit those who may not be entirely comfortable sharing their experiences. While we do not yet have this type of advocacy on a large scale at school, here are a few resources where you can do your own research on symptoms of mental health disorders:
It should be noted, however, that the objective of these resources is to spread awareness, but not to draw conclusions. Often, research is not enough to provide an accurate or helpful diagnosis, as symptoms can sometimes vary from person to person, and are more complex than meets the eye. Thus, in the case that one shares many symptoms with those provided on website lists, and believes they may be suffering from a mental health disorder, the consultation of a medical professional is recommended before reaching a final veredict.
Naturally, in order to monitor students’ mental health, some form of communication between staff and students is required. Because of this, semi-frequent check-ins would be an effective way to ensure that everyone can share how they are feeling.
This could be done in numerous ways. The first would be for a survey to be sent out to students (especially students in secondary who are in/entering adolescence). Some may remember that during online lessons, a similar survey was sent out, however, it was never spoken of again. If this initiative was brought back, and actively used by the school as a way to aid students, it would be great progress. Some periods of tutorial could be allocated to discuss different topics and questions that the students have. These could be broader
Alternatively, hiring a guidance counsellor for students to talk to in their own time would provide more of a professional outlook on the matter.
Keep an open mind
This third and final guideline may not seem as direct but remains crucial in the pursuit of successful and respectful student monitoring. One of the most counter-productive attitudes towards teenagers who share their hardships is to tell them that it is “normal to feel this way”, which is highly invalidating to their feelings. The fear of not being heard or empathised with is one of the main reasons why many repress their struggles. This is why adults, as well as fellow students, should take a page out of the IB guidelines and be open-minded. If somebody tells you, whether you are a teacher or a student, that they are struggling, your first step should be to believe them. Of course, as students, most of us are not equipped to handle issues of this scale, even less solve them. If students are more educated about mental health issues, they will be more self-aware as to when they have reached their limits, or when they know they need help.
“8 Ways Teachers Can Support Students' Mental Health during COVID-19 School Returns.” UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/8-teacher-tips-student-mental-health.
Vance, Amelia. “Understanding Student Monitoring.” Student Privacy Compass, 27 Oct. 2021, https://studentprivacycompass.org/resource/understanding-student-monitoring/.
Clark, Callum. “How Does Poor Mental Health Affect Students? 6 Key Impacts.” Inside Government Blog, https://blog.insidegovernment.co.uk/higher-education/how-does-mental-health-affect-students.
Farley, Holly. “Assessing Mental Health in Vulnerable Adolescents : Nursing2022.” LWW, https://journals.lww.com/nursing/Fulltext/2020/10000/Assessing_mental_health_in_vulnerable_adolescents.12.aspx#:~:text=Adolescents%20as%20a%20group%20are,feelings%20of%20stress%20and%20hopelessness.
“Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 May 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/index.htm.
“Adolescent Mental Health.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health.