Here’s why educators should be trained in mental health

They will be better equipped to recognise signs of distress.

In today’s fast paced life and ever-evolving social and educational landscape the responsibilities of educators extend far beyond the traditional classroom instruction.

As a psychologist I spent several years working with children and young people within the national school system and the national mental health services for children and adolescents.

This gave me the opportunity to appreciate how teachers have increasingly been finding themselves preoccupied about how to support children and young people who exhibit mental health related issues.

Children bring their whole selves to school including their struggles outside of school as well as possible mental health problems. It was clear then, and it is even clearer today that it is important for educators to possess a deep understanding of mental health issues and to be equipped with the necessary training to identify and address mental health related concerns within the classroom setting.

Considering the significant role educators play in the lives of their students, serving as role models, guides and being sources of support, educators have a privileged position of understanding the background and experience of their students.

Awareness of mental health in children and young people allows educators to better appreciate the complexities of the student experience. Many children and young people face an array of challenges from academic pressures to social and familial issues. Educators who are well-versed in mental health will feel better equipped to recognise signs of distress and offer a compassionate and informed response.

One of the primary advantages of having educators trained in mental health is the ability to identify potential issues early on. Classroom and break-time observations provide educators with unique insights into students’ behaviours, attitudes and emotional states that may warrant further attention.

The earlier difficulties in mental health are picked up and the earlier the treatment the better the prognosis tends to be. When educators are equipped with knowledge on mental health issues in children and adolescents, they can identify warning signs such as changes in mood, withdrawal from social activities or a decline in academic performance.

A deep understanding of mental health issues enables educators to continue creating safe and inclusive learning environments that align with the mental health needs of students. Emotional wellbeing and resilience are to be fostered at a very early age.  When educators are trained in children and adolescent mental health a proactive approach can be adopted.

With understanding comes empathy and with empathy, strong and positive connections are established. By demonstrating empathy and a non-judgemental attitude, educators create an open and trusting environment where students feel comfortable expressing their feelings and concerns. Furthermore, positive teacher-student relationships have a lasting impact on child’s emotional development and academic success.

As a psychologist and co-founder of Psychology in Practice, I wish to highlight a sense of urgency to make psychoeducation concerning children’s mental health as part of the educators’ formation and on ongoing professional development.

Mental health should not be something we talk about on one day on October 10, nor should it be a topic that emerges in the aftermath of a death by suicide. When we talk of mental health in a person, we need to look at the person’s lifespan starting from the gestation period till old age and to intervene in the natural settings that characterises one’s life stage. Educators’ training in mental health commencing from the early years plays a crucial role in early intervention of mental health issues in children and to manage psychological problems effectively as they present in their natural setting.

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