Teachers, coaches, and other school staff are in the trenches of daily life with our students. No matter the age of the child, these education professionals are valued members of the school’s village. This special relationship can give education professionals an insight into the mental health of all students that sometimes is not shared by parents, family members or trusted friends.
Since teachers, coaches, and other education professionals are gifted with this insight into the lives of their students, it is important that they are aware of some common signs of mental illness. Whether anxiety, depression, hopelessness, or a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia presents itself, taking note of some red flag behavior warning signs can possibly lead to early testing and diagnosis. Since treatment for mental illness can be tricky and unique for each individual, the earlier interventions can begin, the better the opportunity for success.
If you work with students of any age, in any capacity, take note of a few of these signs of possible mental illness. While you certainly cannot diagnose an issue, you can start the conversation with parents or school counselors as necessary.
Significant worry, anxiety, or repetitive behaviors during the day
While this can look different for each student, keep your eyes and ears peeled for statements of worry or anxiety. Some students may not be able to verbalize their anxiety and might turn towards repetitive behaviors such as chewing their shirt, sucking their thumb, pacing, or even packing and repacking their belongings.
Statements about body issues or rapid weight loss
Coaches especially might be privy to some early signs of possible eating disorders. Listen for statements that degrade their body or for food issues such as refusing to eat in public settings, exercising more based on what they ate that day, or other nutritional obsession.
Loss of interest in friends, hobbies, or school
Students can sometimes become absent from relationships and activities once important to them. Watch for students who no longer attend favorite clubs or extracurricular activities, or for students who stop turning in assignments or attending school.
Signs of Self Harm
Some students will harm themselves in small (or large) ways. Be vigilant for students with unexplained scars on their arms or legs, as well as for students that appear to be hiding certain areas of their body with inappropriate clothing. These students may refuse to take off their long sleeved shirts or to be seen by peers without certain long socks.
Intense feelings and reactions
For middle school and high school students especially, it can sometimes feel like every situation is dire for adolescents. However, if a student seems especially angry, sad or frustrated – or has uncontrollable reactions to those feelings – it can be a warning sign that follow up is needed.
Education professionals are a vital part of the lives, and mental health, of students everywhere. Thank you for your dedication and for noticing possible problems early on.
Looking to increase your knowledge or your school’s knowledge about mental illness? Consider enrolling in our Mental Illness First Aid training class for youth. Please look under our Take Action tab and register today!