Connecting Mental Health & Academic Achievement

Connecting Mental Health & Academic Achievement
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<h2 style=The Connection Between Mental Health and Academic Achievement

April 2022 | Issue #30

All dedicated educators take pride in knowing the strengths and needs of the students they serve. Educators are well-attuned to consider a variety of known factors that can impact young learners’ school-related outcomes, including whether they come from historically underserved groups, whether they are English language learners, and/or whether they are experiencing poverty. One important contributor to school outcomes that school leaders may not regularly consider is the mental health of the individuals they serve. The experience of an adverse home environment where mental health supports are not a priority, or the family may have several other stressors impacting their ability to provide a consistent healthy home or mental health concerns are stigmatized, the educational environment may be the first line of defense in identifying and addressing mental health concerns. As such, it is important that educators are well informed on the signs of mental health distress and how it may manifest in the educational environment. Moreover, schools benefit greatly from the implementation of systems that can support identifying concerns early and provide school-wide and individualized supports that meet student needs. When mental health is not addressed the impact can be devastating and disrupt a multitude of functional life domains. When students are impacted by mental health concerns, academics and other educational priorities typically take a backseat until concerns are properly addressed.

Mental Health can be defined as:

Mental health can be best thought of as a way an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact their lives. It is important that we view mental health as a continuum. In the same way that every individual experiences physical health as a continuum, individuals have a mental health experience. As with physical health, mental health changes at various periods in individuals’ lives based both on genetic and ecological factors. A mental illness is a condition that impacts an individual’s thinking, emotions, and mood such that it interferes with daily functioning. Most young individuals enjoy stable mental wellness, suggesting that they have positive regard for themselves, enjoy positive relationships with the people who are important to them, and are commonly resilient when confronted with challenges in their lives at home and at school. When mental health deteriorates substantially, mental illness may be a root cause, and interferes with the individual’s ability to employ healthy coping skills.

Occurrence of mental illness among young Individuals:

Roughly one in six school-aged individuals experience impairments in life functioning due to a mental illness, and the number of young individuals enduring mental illness increases as young individuals grow older. The most prevalent mental illness in school-aged individuals includes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavioral or conduct problems, depression, and anxiety. Nearly 50 percent of mental illnesses are noticeable during or prior to adolescence, and three-quarters appear before the age of 25, ultimately meaning that mental illness places a disproportionate burden on young individuals.

Impact of mental illness:

When left untreated or ineffective treatments are implemented, coping with the discomfort of mental illness can contribute to self-harm or suicide, which is a leading cause of death for those within the age range of 10-24 years of age. When mental health concerns are identified early and addressed appropriately, the more likely the individual is to avoid the onset and/or progression of a mental illness. Many times, deteriorating mental health is recognizable well before mental illness emerges.

Supporting Mental Health in Young Individuals within the School:

When appropriate mental health supports are implemented within a timely manner our young individuals and all stakeholders benefit; as such, educators and guardians play a crucial role in ensuring concerns are addressed as mental illness will present in multiple environmental settings. When stakeholders work in tandem, positive outcomes will be achieved more effectively. Individuals with mental illness that receive appropriate support will demonstrate the ability to integrate more successfully within the school and home environments, ultimately increasing academic progress and increasing the likelihood of graduation from school, and subsequently pursuing a college education.

Academic, social, and emotional outcomes of young people are improved in schools with positive school climates; adequate mental health and behavioral health support, including trained staff in supporting mental and emotional wellness; and coordinating systems for identifying, referring, and addressing mental health needs.

  1. Encourage Mental Wellness and Reduce Stigma
    • Provide support for mental wellness in the general education setting. Encourage and support all school staff in implementing evidence-based and developmentally matched prevention curricula in the general education setting, including social-emotional learning and mental health literacy curricula.
    • Provide school-wide mental wellness campaigns. Encourage mental wellness and improve awareness of mental health concerns among school adults, peers, and family members by hosting regular social marketing campaigns.
  2. Develop Awareness of the Indicators of Mental Health Concerns
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Having very low energy
    • Appearing disheveled
    • Losing interest in hobbies and other activities
    • Trouble concentrating
    • Becoming easily irritated or angered
    • Changing eating or sleeping patterns
    • Crying often
  3. Intervene Early with Coordinated Supports
    • Improve school mental health referral systems to ensure that concerned school staff, family members, and peers can efficiently and effectively refer their students, friends, and children for mental health support
    • Improve the coordination of mental health supports across general education and special education. Special education and general education must work in a coordinated manner to provide prevention and early intervention opportunities aligned with a public health model for mental health.
    • Build relationships with local mental health service providers to connect young individuals and their families to affordable, developmentally aligned, and culturally and linguistically appropriate resources and services.
    • Coordinate your school-community mental health partnerships with other supportive, youth-serving sectors, including law enforcement, juvenile justice, and health care.

Mental Health Resources

Below are some additional links to resources to help support healthy classroom environments for students and staff.

  • Number 211
  • Community Crisis Response Team (CCRT)
    • 760-956-2345
  • Saint John of God Healthcare Services Hospitality and Outpatient Center
    • 760-952-9192 x72506
  • San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health
    • Mental Health - 24-hour Helpline (888) 743-1478
    • Substance Use Disorder - 24-hour Helpline (800) 968-2636
  • Victor Community Support Services San Bernardino
    • (909) 890-5930
  • Valley Star Walk-in Center
    • 760-245-4695