In April 2019, the National University of Singapore launched the country's first Youth Epidemiology and Resilience Study. The study found that around 1 in 3 young people between the ages of 11 and 18 had experienced mental illness symptoms, including symptoms of depression and anxiety. Such symptoms were especially severe among adolescents between 14 and 16. This suggests that teens in this age group likely require more useful coping strategies for depression and anxiety.
Undoubtedly, mental health problems among the youth have been on the rise in recent years. Escalating depressive and anxiety disorder rates are especially concerning, as these illnesses have long been counted among the most prevalent causes of disability worldwide. Teachers and parents today need to learn as much as possible about supporting adolescents with depression and anxiety and subsequently put that knowledge into practice. While one might be skeptical of contacting a psychiatrist for anxiety, some might find themselves debating between a psychologist vs psychiatrist for depression. In these situations, a teacher can help!
Here are four things teachers can do to help students struggling with anxiety, depressive disorders, and other mental health conditions:Here are four coping strategies teachers can use to help students struggling with anxiety, depressive disorders, and other mental health conditions. Click To Tweet
Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
Singapore's top educational institutions have a compassionate view of mental health. These institutions typically have robust programs and protocols in place to support students' psychological well-being.
However, mental illness is still heavily stigmatized outside of such supportive environments—not only in Singapore but worldwide. Students feeling shame about their mental health may be reluctant to come forward about their struggles.
Teachers can do their part to combat the stigma around anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders by making their classrooms safe spaces for candid discussions on mental health. Literature and history classes, for example, may spawn constructive conversations on how human beings' perceptions of their own minds, emotions, and behavior have evolved over the centuries.
Learn Additional Coping Strategies for Depression and Anxiety
As of 2021, the Singapore Ministry of Education has begun providing all teachers with basic training on mental health literacy. This initiative is meant to equip teachers at all levels and give them the coping strategies for depression and other mental issues to help their students.
If student mental health is vital to you, you may want to consider seeking additional certifications on top of those provided by your school or government. Pursuing further training will help you stay abreast of current best practices in adolescent psychology and give you more mental health support techniques to try in your classroom.
Afterward, you may even find yourself equipped to assist other teachers at your school with their mental health education.
Ask Them How They Feel
As previously mentioned, young people suffering from depression and anxiety may hesitate to volunteer that information for many reasons. Besides internalized guilt or shame, they may also fear being judged, particularly by teachers and other authority figures. Others may be reluctant to confide in adults due to negative past experiences. Thus, waiting for your students to come to you with their mental health concerns is probably not ideal.
One of the simplest but most effective ways to help a depressed or anxious student is to approach them compassionately as soon as you notice any concerning changes in behavior. Some signs to watch out for include drastically altered moods, difficulty paying attention or falling behind on assignments.
Approach struggling students privately and ask them how they're feeling. Offer a listening ear, and recognize and validate their pain as something real. Above all, assure them that you don't intend to give up on them.
Make Necessary Adjustments to Assignments and Tasks
Once your students have opened up to you about their difficulties, you can begin finding ways to help them get through school without compromising their mental well-being. This is not to say, of course, that you're expected to give such students grades they haven't earned. But you can give them more time to complete their assignments or break up large projects into smaller chunks.
If in doubt about the types of accommodation, your students might need, it's best to ask them directly. Give your students a chance to think about what classroom adjustments would help make school less stressful. Then implement feasible measures. Having a say in how you help them gives students a greater sense of agency and personal autonomy. This may help alleviate the disempowering effects of anxiety and depression.
Today's youth are at greater risk for depressive and anxiety disorders than ever before. For this reason, helping students care for their mental and emotional well-being is more important than ever. Educators should do their part in combating mental health stigma by encouraging honest and informed discussions about it. They can also extend personalized support to students in need.