The World Health Organization declares October 10th as World Mental Health Day to recognize the different mental health struggles citizens across the world manage every day.

What is World Mental Health Day?

World Mental Health Day allows mental health professionals an opportunity to share different resources and collaborate with one another a variety of findings that will advance the understanding of people struggling with mental health issues. The day is meant to create a spring board for conversations on the impact mental health has in societies all over the world.

Why is it Important to Teach Students about Mental Health?

Many students of all ages have experienced mental health struggles, whether it is a personal struggle or witnessing a family member struggle. It is important for educators and school counselors to bring awareness and resources to children from the elementary years to high school because students are feeling and identifying emotions as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental health conditions. The identification and diagnosis are the first steps in helping a student who may be struggling with mental health.

Students can benefit from added resources through someone they trust to assist in the treatment recommended by a medical professional. School counselors should be able to give classroom educators daily support so they can provide accurate definitions of the various mental health conditions students may be experiencing. The more awareness students are given, the more likely the student may be to seek help for any confusing emotions they may be experiencing.

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to be closed and students to learn alone behind a screen without peer socialization for an extreme amount of time. Some students experienced the challenging feeling of loneliness and more than likely other emotions that were very uncomfortable. This isolation due to the pandemic also eliminated the authentic teacher/student relationship and for many students it removed the one trusted adult a student could be vulnerable with when expressing feelings and seeking guidance.

Various health experts have indicated a consistent increase in suicides among the youth every year. During the shutdown of schools in 2020, many students struggled with mental illnesses and these students may not have had anyone to reach out to directly to work through these emotions.

Now, post school closures, but still in a pandemic, teachers are instructing the majority of students face to face and are working to recreate relationships with students that allow the opportunity to share lessons with students highlighting mental health topics. These lessons may encourage discussions between students, or student participation in various healthy activities, that all develop a better understanding of mental health among students in kindergarten to 12th grade.

Ways to Incorporate World Mental Health Day in Your Lessons

The World Mental Health website has many resources for teachers to use with students in kindergarten through high school ages. Teachers of elementary-age students may not need to be concerned with the exact date of World Mental Health Day to provide lessons with students about how they are feeling and how to deal with emotions. Middle and high school students may appreciate knowing one day a year is devoted to mental health.

The following are various resources, activities, and ideas teachers can use on World Mental Health Day or anytime during the school year to create awareness around mental health struggles students may be experiencing.

Elementary Education

  1. Show and discuss the Disney movie Inside Out to engage students in conversations about emotions.
  2. Provide hand-held mirrors for students to see how he or she looks when expressing a different emotion.
  3. Roleplay situations that involve dealing with emotions.
  4. Have students complete journal writing with specific topics that involve emotional situations.
  5. Take a break during the school day to walk outside, explore nature, and see all the beauty of the outdoors.
  6. Create opportunities during the day for students to participate in a moment of mindfulness.

Middle and High School Education

  1. Do one day of a “Digital Detox” in which students are encouraged to not use electronic devices and to especially take a break from social media.
  2. Create an opportunity for students to discuss mental health topics while in small groups.
  3. Invite guest speaks well-versed in appropriate mental health topics, such as suicide, depression, or anxiety.
  4. Conduct the class period outside to change up the scenery of the traditional classroom setting.
  5. Plan an outside activity with students, such as team-building activities, where students must rely on others to complete a challenge.
  6. Explain and model the effectiveness of positive self-talk students can use when feeling agitated with a situation that may end up in a desperate outcome.

Teachers have always been on the lookout for changes in students’ behaviors, but some behaviors can be tricky to pinpoint. Teachers have an added responsibility in their lesson planning to directly educate students in the aspects of mental health by making students aware of how emotions may change their behavior. The information of mental health shared with students works to relieve stigma or embarrassment they feel, which could save a life.

*Updated September 2021