Mental Health in Education: How to Support Our Schools

Dec 6, 2022

Mental health in education is a hot topic in the news lately and for a good reason. More and more people are speaking about the importance of mental health, especially regarding our children and schools. South Africa in particular has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, with the latest Mental State of the World report ranking South Africa as the lowest-ranked country based on mental well-being.
We can no longer ignore this problem. Mental health issues in education are real and affect our students, educators and schools.

So, what can we do to support mental health in education?

Mental Health Awareness in Schools

Mental health is often seen as a taboo subject, and this urgently needs to change. We need to normalise the conversation around mental health so those close to us feel comfortable talking about it. Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated as such. Too often, mental health is seen as something we should deal with on our own. But we should discuss mental health openly, much like we are doing now.

One way to start ‘normalising’ mental health in schools is to have mental health awareness days or weeks. This will help start the conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health. These events must be open and inclusive, where everyone feels comfortable participating.

Mental health education should also be part of all schools’ curricula. This will help students understand mental health, learn how to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and know where to go for help. Ideally, this education should start in early childhood to equip children with the tools they need to deal with mental health issues.

Supporting Students

mental health matters

As educators, we play a vital role in the mental health of our students. We see them every day and have the opportunity to get to know them. This means we are in a unique position to notice when something is wrong.


Behaviours to look out for include:
    • Withdrawing from friends and activities they used to enjoy
    • Significant changes in eating or sleeping habits
    • Unexplained aches and pains
    • Sudden outbursts of anger or sadness
    • Difficulty concentrating

Of course, noticing that something is wrong is only half the battle. The other half is knowing what to do about it. This is where things can get tricky. As educators, we are not mental health professionals. However, that does not mean we cannot provide support to our students.

If you notice any of these behaviours in a student, the best thing you can do is have a conversation with them. This doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out discussion. Just let them know you’re there for them and want to help. If they don’t want to talk to you, that’s okay. They can speak to other professionals, like school counsellors or psychologists. The important thing is that they get the help they need.

There are many ways that we can support our students with their mental health. For example, getting involved in school-wide or district initiatives related to mental health. There are also many great resources available online and in books.

Some of my favourites are:

    • South African Federation For Mental Health:
    • The Jed Foundation:
    • National Alliance on Mental Illness:
    • Active Minds:

These are just a few of the many organisations and resources available to support mental health in education.

One of the most important things we can do is simply be there for our students. Listen to them, validate their feelings, and let them know they are not alone. This can make a world of difference for a student struggling with mental health issues.

Supporting our Own Health and Well-Being

It is also important to remember that we need to take care of our own mental health. As educators, we often put the needs of our students above our own. However, if we do not take care of ourselves, we will not be able to take care of our students properly. Make sure to schedule some time for yourself each day, even for a few minutes.

This time can be used for anything that brings you joy or helps you relax – things like reading, going for a walk, listening to music, or anything else that you enjoy. Taking care of our mental health is not selfish; it is essential.

We also need to take care of our physical health. This means eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. When our physical health is poor, it can have a negative impact on our mental health.

Finally, it is important to create a support system for yourself. This could be family, friends, colleagues or mental health professionals. These people can provide you with emotional support when you need it.

Creating a Supportive Environment

It is also important to create a supportive environment in our schools. This means having policies and procedures to support students and educators with mental health issues. For example, schools can provide staff members with mental health first aid training. They can also have a list of mental health resources available for students and families.

It is essential that we destigmatise mental health in our schools. Students should feel comfortable talking about mental health without fear of judgement. They should also know that there are people in the school who can help them. By supporting our students and one another, we can create a more positive and supportive educational environment for everyone.

Mental health is a complex issue, but there are many things we can do to support our students and our colleagues. By starting the conversation and making mental health a priority, we can make a difference in the lives of those around us.

What are some ways that you support mental health in your school community?

Share your thoughts and ideas with us.