What Educators Should Know About Mental Health Problems

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

You should know

  • The warning signs for mental health problems.
  • Whom to turn to, such as the principal, school nurse, school psychiatrist or psychologist, or school social worker, if you have questions or concerns about a student’s behavior.
  • How to access crisis support and other mental health services.

What to look for

  • Anxiety Disorders: include obsessive-compulsive, panic, phobias, PTSD disorders
  • Behavioral Disorders: may involve inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, defiant behavior, drug use, criminal activity
  • Eating Disorders: anorexia Nervosa, binge eating, bulimia
  • Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
  • Mood Disorders: depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, self-harm
  • Personality Disorders: antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder
  • Psychotic Disorders: hallucinations, delusions
  • Suicidal Behavior

Anxiety disorders

Behavioral disorders involve a pattern of disruptive behaviors in children that last for at least 6 months and cause problems in school, at home and in social situations. Nearly everyone shows some of these behaviors at times, but behavior disorders are more serious. Behavioral disorders may involve:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Defiant behavior
  • Drug Use
  • Criminal Activity

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. The most common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating
  • Bulimia

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders

  • Mental Health problems and substance use disorders sometimes occur together. This is because:
  • Certain illegal drugs can cause people with an addiction to experience one or more symptoms of a mental health problem
  • Mental health problems can sometimes lead to alcohol or drug use, as some people with a mental health problem may misuse these substances as a form of self-medication
  • Mental and substance use disorders share some underlying causes, including changes in brain composition, genetic vulnerabilities, and early exposure to stress or trauma

More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance use problem. Substance use problems occur more frequently with certain mental health problems, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Personality disorders

Mood Disorders

These disorders, also called affective disorders, may involve:

  • Feeling sad all the time
  • Losing interest in important parts of life
  • Fluctuating between extreme happiness and extreme sadness

Personality Disorders

People with personality disorders experience patterns of behavior, feelings, and thinking that can:

  • Interfere with a person’s life
  • Create problems at work and school
  • Cause issues in personal and social relationships

Personality disorders Include:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder

Psychotic Disorders

People with psychotic disorders lose contact with reality and experience a range of extreme symptoms that usually includes:

  • Hallucinations—hearing or seeing things that are not real, such as voices
  • Delusions—believing things that are not true

However, these symptoms can occur in people with other health problems, including bipolar disorder, dementia, substance abuse disorders, or brain tumors.

Suicidal Behavior

Suicide causes immeasurable pain, suffering, and loss to individuals, families, and communities nationwide. On average, 112 Americans die by suicide each day. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds and more than 9.4 million adults in the United States had serious thoughts of suicide within the past 12 months. But suicide is preventable, so it's important to know what to do. For more information, go to www.sprc.org.

  • Warning Signs of Suicide
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

What Educators Should Look For in Student Behavior

Consult with a school counselor, nurse, or administrator and the student’s parents if you observe one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to make oneself lose weight
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still that puts the student in physical danger or causes problems in the classroom
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Drastic changes in the student’s behavior or personality

What Educators Can Do in Classrooms and Schools

You can support the mental health of all students in your classroom and school, not just individual students who may exhibit behavioral issues. Consider the following actions:

  • Educate staff, parents, and students on symptoms of and help for mental health problems
  • Promote social and emotional competency and build resilience
  • Help ensure a positive, safe school environment
  • Teach and reinforce positive behaviors and decision‐making
  • Encourage helping others
  • Encourage good physical health
  • Help ensure access to school‐based mental health supports

Developing Effective School Mental Health Programs

Efforts to care for the emotional wellbeing of children and youth can extend beyond the classroom and into the entire school. School‐based mental health programs can focus on promoting mental wellness, preventing mental health problems, and providing treatment. Effective programs:

  • Promote the healthy social and emotional development of all children and youth
  • Recognize when young people are at risk for or are experiencing mental health problems
  • Identify how to intervene early and appropriately when there are problems

School Safety Law Training

Ulster BOCES must comply with amended State regulation and, as a result, all staff must receive prevention training on school violence. Training is a two-step process:

  1. View the School Violence Overview video found on the Sullivan BOCES website . IMPORTANT: Remember to print a certificate once you complete the training and submit it to the Ulster BOCES Office of Personnel.
  2. Read the “What Educators Should Know presentation on this page. The Ulster BOCES Office of Personnel will be ask you to confirm that you have completed this step in writing.