How Mental Health Affects Students

June 10, 2020

Mental health challenges can affect many areas of your teen’s life. It can reduce their overall quality of life, impact their physical health, and negatively impact their relationships with friends and family members. In addition to all of the above, mental health problems can affect their education and academic achievements while they are in school. Mental health problems can affect your teen’s energy levels, concentration, mental ability, and confidence, which can hinder their capabilities. Many teens who drop out of or fail out of school have experienced mental health challenges that have either gone untreated or undiagnosed. It is essential to understand how mental health can adversely affect your teen’s academic career. It is also important to know what you, as a parent, can do to help ensure that your child receives all possible support both in school and out.

Mental health statistics-in brief

The most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder in children and teens here in the United States are anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Data recently released by the centers for disease control indicate approximately 9.4% of children ages 2-17 have received an ADHD diagnosis. In addition, 7.1% have been diagnosed with anxiety, 3.2% with depression, and 7.4% with a behavioral problem. Some of these conditions commonly occur together. For that matter, it is almost 75% more likely for a child with one disorder to have another co-occurring disorder. Approximately one in five children are diagnosed with a mental health disorder by the age of 8. In many cases, the challenges associated with this disorder will continue through high school. This means in a classroom of twenty-five children, five of them may be struggling with the same mental health challenges faced by many adults: depression, anxiety, attention disorders, and even substance abuse related illnesses.

Why mental health matters in schools

Addressing the mental health needs of children in school is critically important. As noted above, approximately one in six school-aged children and teens have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorder. Also, one in ten young people has a mental health condition that is severe enough to impair how they function in all areas of their life, including in school, at home, and in their local communities. Unfortunately, many estimates indicate most students do not receive treatment for their mental health needs. These rough estimates show that at least half (some estimate as high as 80%) of children between ages 6 and 17 who have a mental health need do not receive the mental health care that they need.

The ability to recognize and support the mental health needs of students in schools is essential for many reasons. Just a few of these include:

  • Mental health problems are common among school-aged children (and teens), and they often develop during childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, without treatment, some students will experience more profound and more intense symptoms, which can lead to academic failure, social isolation, and in some cases, self-harm and suicide.
  • These conditions are treatable! Many of the mental health struggles faced by children and teens are highly treatable. Research has shown that the earlier the needs of your teen are met, and treatment is made available, the better the treatment success rates are likely to be.
  • Early detection and intervention strategies are essential. These strategies can help improve resilience and the ability of students and tees to succeed academically, socially, and throughout their future academic and employment careers.

Many experts say the school systems should play a significant role in identifying students with mental health problems. Once identified, the school should be responsible for ensuring the success of these students. Unfortunately, this is a role that many school systems are not equipped nor prepared for. Often, due to lack of resources, there just aren’t enough trained professionals on staff to tackle such a responsibility. As a result, many children in need fall through the cracks and do not receive the supports they need.

How do mental health disorders affect youth at school?

It is disheartening to learn that youth with emotional and behavioral disorders have the worst graduation rate of all students with disabilities. The national average shows approximately 40% of students with emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders will go on to graduate from high school as compared to the national average graduation rate of 76%. Also, over 50% of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities over the age of 14 drops out of high school.

Mental health disorders can affect a student’s ability to learn in the classroom as well as affecting their social interactions. Both of these are critical to the success of students through their academic career-from elementary school through college. One of the primary challenges families faces when it comes to their teen’s mental health needs is getting the school system to recognize how mental health disorders directly impact their child’s ability to learn.

Mental health can affect young people in a variety of different ways and to differing degrees in the academic environment. The symptoms one child may struggle to manage during the educational day may be managed by another child who shares the same condition with minimal difficulty. It is essential to work with your school system to determine the proper support your child may need to be successful while in school to help your adolescent or teen manage their mental health needs. Throughout this process, it is important to keep in mind that all youth are unique and will differ in their needs and coping mechanisms. Therefore, the interventions chosen (social services, therapy, etc.) need to be based on each child’s individual needs. They must also be flexible to provide more or less support as your child’s needs change.

It is also beneficial to look within your child’s classroom and examine how their mental health symptoms may affect their learning environment. For example, if your teen has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, they may often struggle in school because they are so consumed by worry that they are unable to focus and pay attention to the present. Their anxiety may manifest into physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach upset, which can result in increased absenteeism. Sometimes, their fear of being embarrassed when they have to interact with others will lead them to avoid group and social activities. It is beneficial to consider what supports the school may be able to provide in addition to other therapeutic options outside of the academic environment to help your teen utilize healthy and safe coping mechanisms.

Treating mental health-in school and out

As a parent, navigating your teen’s mental health needs at school (and outside of school) can be a difficult task. There are many variables that must be addressed and multiple moving pieces, all of which must eventually line up to ensure your teen receives the best possible support. One of the most helpful strategies is to work on building a strong working relationship with your child’s school and the people in it. This can be challenging in the beginning, especially if you feel as though the school is coming up short in their willingness to help your child achieve success. If you feel as though your child’s mental health needs are inhibiting their ability to learn and progress at school, it may be helpful to talk to your school counselors about special education supports from section 504. There is a wealth of information available online and through your school district offices if you are not familiar with this program.

In addition to any supports your child may be eligible for at school, it is also vital to consider therapy options outside of school. It is not uncommon for your child to feel uncomfortable discussing personal feelings with members of their academic community with whom they interact daily. If this is the case, it may be difficult for them to address the root cause of their symptoms with a guidance counselor or school social worker. In these cases, it is helpful to consider a therapy program with sessions outside of the academic environment. An individual or group therapy can help your teen unpack the symptoms they are experiencing. What your teen learns from treatment, whether in an individual setting, or a residential setting such as Hillcrest, can help them during their teen years and beyond.  There are several different therapy options, and they can often be delivered in both an outpatient and inpatient setting. Outpatient settings are great for teens who have never tried therapy before or for whom remaining close to home may increase the chances of success. In some cases, outpatient therapy is not enough, and you may find your teen continues to struggle.

Zoom Session - Mental Health - Hillcrest

If you have tried outpatient therapy programs and have been unsuccessful, consider a California teen residential program such as Hillcrest. At a residential treatment program, your teen will participate in similar therapy sessions as would be offered in an outpatient setting. In addition, your teen will have the opportunity to talk with and learn from peers who share similar experiences. Throughout their time at Hillcrest, your teen will meet and interact with peers who are at various stages in the treatment and learning process. This can help your teen support those who are just starting out as well as learn from those who are closer to the end of their treatment program. Here at Hillcrest, we design each of our treatment programs to meet the needs of the individual seeking help. This means your teen’s individual needs are met, and their specific symptoms and concerns are addressed by highly trained, caring, and compassionate staff. If your child is struggling at school due to a mental health condition, contact us at Hillcrest today.