Recognizing the Warning Signs of a Student Struggling with a Mental Health Disorder

Depressed Girl Studying At HomeAs a teacher, you spend a lot of time with your students. And next to a student’s close family and friends you may be the best equipped to identify signs that something is wrong. Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse don’t usually come out of nowhere. Yet sometimes it’s hard to determine if one of your students is just going through a phase so to speak, or if there is a bigger issue present. Regardless, knowing the warning signs of mental health disorders can help you be on the lookout in case one of your students needs help.

Signs a Student May Be Suffering from a Mental Health Condition

If you have a student who, for several weeks or months, displays any or all of the following recurring behaviors, the student may need professional treatment and support (Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness):

  • Increased tardiness or absences.
  • A rapid decrease in grades and classroom performance.
  • Poor concentration with an inability to focus, sit still, or stay awake.
  • Angry or aggressive behaviors, often resulting in unexpected outbursts.
  • Isolation or withdrawal from social situations where the student seems to lack friends or interest in interacting with others.
  • Extreme weight loss or gain, with weight loss being an indication of an eating disorder.
  • Regularly appearing overly anxious, frightened, or worried.
  • Lack of personal hygiene.
  • Appearing high or under the influence of alcohol.
  • Signs of self mutilation — wearing long sleeves or pants in hot weather or visible scars.

Typical Mental Health Conditions Affecting Adolescents

At any age, students in your classroom may be suffering from (Source: HHS.gov):

  • Mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression.
  • Behavioral or disruptive disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or social phobias.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Substance abuse disorders.
  • And others.

What to Do if You Suspect a Student is at Risk

Talk to your principal and school counselor. Together, you can take the steps necessary to work with the child’s parents to identify the source of the challenge and provide the student with the counseling, classroom accommodations, or external mental health counseling they need to overcome their issues and begin the road to recovery.

Question the Signs

Early detection is often the most significant factor in helping anyone of any age suffering from a mental health condition to obtain the support and treatment they need to heal. If you have any concerns about a student, reach out to your school administration for help and guidance.

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