Written by Sydney Parker
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some brilliant teachers. They taught me how to read, write, analyze, and think critically. Some of them even wrote the letters of recommendation that helped me get into college. Adding them all up, I’ve been taught by well over 60 different professors and teachers since starting school at the age of 5.
My favorite teacher of all time was my freshmen English teacher. She had high standards and was passionate about her subject. In her class, we often had to write “reflections” about the books we were reading. The goal of this assignment was to connect the major themes of the book with whatever was going on in our lives — and because of this the papers often turned quite personal. At the end of the year, my teacher told us that during her first year teaching, she received one reflection saying that one of her students was suicidal. The next year, 5 students. The year after that, 9. After her fourth year of teaching, she received so many that she lost count.
Teachers are called to do more than just teach. Over the course of a single school day, a teacher may be asked to act as an educator, administrator, coach, counselor, and mentor. Through these roles, they can act as powerful role models for students. But are they being adequately trained for these roles? Every week, my teacher received cries for help — yet she didn’t receive any mental health training to help her students. At best, she could refer them to the school counselors. What difference could it make in the lives of our students if teachers received adequate mental health training?
Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, and three quarters begin by the time a person enters their mid-twenties (Adolescents and mental health, 2017). Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10-24 (Suicide, 2019). How might our mental healthcare system be transformed if teachers — who our children spend most of their daylight hours with — knew the warning signs? Mental health training has been shown to have a positive impact on the knowledge, confidence, and attitudes of teachers (Jorm et al., 2010). How might a classroom look different if every student was receiving the help they needed?
Giving teachers mental health training doesn’t mean they need to become mental health counselors. It means training them to recognize the signs and guide their students towards help. It means showing students that they mean more than a grade.
Adolescents and mental health. (2017, April 09). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/ maternal_child_adolescent/topics/adolescence/mental_health/en/ #:~:text=Worldwide 10-20% of children,young people in all regions.
Jorm, A. F., Kitchener, B. A., Sawyer, M. G., Scales, H., & Cvetkovski, S. (2010). Mental health first aid training for high school teachers: a cluster randomized trial. BMC psychiatry, 10(1), 51.
Suicide. (2019, April). Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/ statistics/suicide.shtml#:~:text=Suicide is a Leading Cause of Death in the United States,-According to the&text=Suicide was the second leading,ages of 35 and 54.