Leader 2 Leader Blog

Administrators’ role in student mental health


A Sponsored Blog from Talkspace

It’s not news to anyone working in education that many students struggle with their mental health. The latest research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on teen mental health found that almost half of all students (42%) felt persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness within the last 12 months. School administrators today probably didn’t enter the profession expecting that mental health would figure so heavily into the job description, but this moment calls for school leadership to have clear strategies for improving and protecting the mental well-being of their campus communities. 

Mental well-being is fundamental to academic success

As part of a student’s educational experience, mental health isn’t a sideshow. A growing body of research demonstrates that strong mental health is a major determinant of a student’s academic success. Mentally healthy students are more likely to engage with their academics, create positive connections with others, and be ready to learn in the classroom setting.  However, even students who experience mental health challenges can thrive academically if they receive affirming care that helps them manage their symptoms, develop resilience, and navigate the academic landscape with support.

While mental health challenges can prevent your most talented and ambitious students from achieving their full potential, they can also cause at-risk students to fall farther behind their peers. Students with poor mental health are more likely to experience credit deficiency, suspension and expulsion. Improving mental health can be a catalyst for educational achievement. 

Schools need a strategy for both intervention and prevention

Your school’s plan for supporting student mental health must include both a way to identify students with challenges and intervene quickly and appropriately, while also creating a school culture where mental health is prioritized and, hopefully, mental health problems are prevented from developing.  Identifying those who are struggling requires frequent and open communication between teachers, counselors, and, ideally, parents and guardians, so that students can get the support they require, quickly and consistently. Many students need mental health care beyond the scope of what a school counselor’s office can provide, and when such student needs are identified schools should have a protocol for ensuring that they receive specialized care appropriate to their needs. 

Preventing mental health challenges among students is less about a single set of protocols and more about creating a campus culture where positive mental health is prioritized and mental health struggles are discussed openly and without stigma. This can start with an open dialogue about the importance of student mental health and well-being, and this needs to be far more than the occasional meeting or conversation. A prevention strategy can center around educating students on topics like stress reduction and mental resilience, to help them develop tools for navigating pressures like deadlines, competition, grades, exams, and social issues. Aside from the lessons themselves, the fact that your school gives a platform to these topics helps create a supportive ecosystem.

Empowering staff and including parents is essential

Administrators certainly can’t accomplish this alone. You must get the buy-in of the people who interact with your students every day, the teachers, coaches, counselors, and support staff. Providing them with resources, training, and support will allow them to actively contribute to a mentally healthy school culture. 

Although you have less control over your parents, they can be vital assets to your mental health effort. You can help parents and guardians understand the importance of mental health and learn what they can do to support students by offering workshops and information sessions with school counselors or outside experts, keeping lines of communication open, and regularly surveying parents and guardians to keep the school’s finger on the pulse of their perspectives and mental health challenges they see at home. 

Follow the roadmap to a mentally healthy school community

Administrators who prioritize maintaining a culture with mental health at its core help create student success and thriving schools. To learn specific, expert-backed strategies for being a mental health leader, download the Talkspace whitepaper Beyond Academics: A Roadmap for Administrators in Fostering Positive Student Mental Health. It’s filled with a wealth of facts and stats that demonstrate the need for mental health support in schools (and will help you persuasively make the case for more focus and resources) as well as all the factors you should consider as you plan and execute a strategy for ensuring your students thrive.

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