The Importance of Mental Health Professional Development

A sixth-grade English teacher helps two students during Sutton Middle School’s International Baccalaureate immersion day.

You likely realize that you regularly interact with friends, family members, professional peers, and strangers who are silently suffering from a mental health condition. However, you may not realize that your K-12 students may be among the millions of Americans living with a mental health condition. A National Survey of Children’s Health data published online in JAMA Pediatrics reports that as many as one in six U.S. children between the ages of 6 and 17 has a treatable mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As a teacher who provides mentorship, daily structure, education, and emotional support for young people, you play a valuable role in your students’ lives. You also may be among the first adults in a child’s life to realize that they may be experiencing a mental health condition and can be a critical catalyst for early intervention.

To ensure that every teacher has the skills necessary to be a mental health advocate for their students, a growing number of school districts are investing in mental health professional development for their teachers. In what ways could you—and your students—benefit from your participation in mental health training? Consider the following advantages.

1. Recognized mental health cases among students are on the rise.

Not only is there a significant segment of the student population living with a mental health condition, but researchers and health experts predict that the affected student segments are only going to rise.

2. The spectrum of mental health conditions ranges from disruptive to deadly.

The term “mental health disorder” is a collective term for a wide range of conditions that include:

  • ADHD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-injury and suicidal ideation
  • Eating disorders
  • Opioid abuse

If left undiagnosed and untreated, a child could suffer health and lifestyle complications that range from poor academic performance to suicide. With a greater understanding of common childhood mental health conditions and their common symptoms, you, as a child’s teacher, can advocate for them to get the critical healthcare that they need to achieve optimal wellness.

3. Mental health training can provide postvention training and coping skills.

While mental health training aims to enable students to lead healthy, capable lives, every teacher will benefit from training in the area of post-crisis recovery and student support. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), one in 100,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide each year, as do seven in 100,000 young people ages 15 to 19. Mental health training can give teachers the skills needed to help their students cope in the aftermath of a peer suicide.

4. Many mental health conditions can negatively impact a student’s ability to achieve optimal academic outcomes.

Your primary responsibility as a teacher is to facilitate optimal educational opportunities for your students. However, many common mental health conditions can negatively impact a child’s ability to focus on the classroom and process complex educational concepts. From eating disorders that can leave students with little energy or focus, to ADHD which can make it difficult for students to pay attention to lengthy lectures, a mental health challenge can impede academic progress. If you can identify changes or challenges in a students’ behavior and help facilitate mental health counseling or intervention, you can achieve your ultimate goal of helping to provide personalized education opportunities for every student.

Final Thoughts

According to a report published by ScienceDirect, ninety-three percent of teachers are concerned about student mental health needs, and 85 percent expressed the need for further mental health training. If your school district is not already offering you and your fellow faculty members mental health training, advocate with your school leaders to have such impactful education added to your annual training opportunities. The knowledge you will learn could make a difference in the lives of your students—and it could help you save a life.


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

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