Back to School with a Focus on Mental Health

It’s back to school time for kids of all ages. Schools and colleges are bustling again with the promise of a new year. As someone who went to school for a very long time and who teaches in a university setting, I’ve always found this to be an exciting time of year.

However, we know that going back to school can also be stressful. Transitions can be tough both for the first-time preschooler as well as the new college freshman. It can cause considerable stress and anxiety when navigating new schools, different peer groups, academic requirements and other challenges. And let’s not forget that these school-related transitions are also tough for parents.

A particularly difficult time can be during the adolescent and teen years. This age group is at risk for depression, anxiety and in some cases, other serious mental health concerns, including self-injury, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

MHA Back to School Toolkit

To help raise awareness and to provide resources to manage these issues more effectively, Mental Health America (MHA) has put together a “Back to School Toolkit.” The goals of the toolkit are to: 1) identify risk factors and early warning signs of mental health issues in youth; 2) access resources for treatment and crisis intervention; 3) learn strategies to address common mental health concerns; and 4) increase understanding of options to help young people address these mental health issues. Let’s take a look at some of the material from the toolkit.

Key messages

Some of the key messages from the back to school toolkit include:

  • Taking good care of your body and mind can make a difference in how well you do in school.
  • The adolescent and teen years are a pivotal time for establishing a healthy body image and strong sense of self-esteem.
  • Low self-esteem can lead to negative outcomes including depression, self-injury, bullying and risky behaviors like substance use and teen sex.
  • Promoting a young person’s mental health means helping them feel secure, relate well with others and foster their growth at home and at school. Parents are pivotal in this support.
  • Sometimes it’s hard to talk about mental health, but the conversation is too important not to have.
  • Mental health issues are treatable and should be addressed as soon as possible.
  • Young people should find someone they trust and start a conversation. Parents, be ready to listen and let them know you understand.

Fact sheets

Another key part of the toolkit is detailed fact sheets on the following issues:

  • Self–injury: This fact sheet includes common methods of self-injury, risk factors and warning signs, self-help strategies, and ways to help a friend who self-injures.
  • Eating disorders: This fact sheet discusses types of eating disorders, risk factors and causes, warning signs and how to get help.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder: This fact sheet includes an explanation of the disorder (obsess about appearance, overly critical of perceived minor flaws), signs and symptoms, what the disorder is NOT, and how to obtain help.
  • Hair pulling and skin picking: This fact sheet goes over signs and symptoms and resources to get help.

Finding help and support

One of the most valuable components of the toolkit is the clear and concise information about how to help yourself and how to help someone else you’re concerned about. Some of the important points for self-help are to know you are not alone, know you can get better and to seek professional help. When helping a friend with a mental health issue, remember to ask directly about your concerns, encourage them to get help, and seek support for yourself. Two included web resources that are very helpful for finding support and treatment are the MHA affiliate finder and the SAMHSA treatment locator.

Included repeatedly in the toolkit and fact sheets is information about how to get immediate help if you or someone you’re concerned about is experiencing a mental health crisis. Three important options to get help in the US during a crisis include:

  • Text “MHA” to 741741
  • Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • In a life-threatening emergency, go to your local emergency room or call 911

The toolkit also includes links to tons of great web content plus images and infographics that can be easily linked and shared electronically and over social media. Additionally, ready-made articles geared for both students and parents about mental health concerns and treatment resources are provided.

Please take a few minutes to review these terrific resources in the MHA Back to School toolkit. I think you’ll find them very helpful, either for yourself or for someone you care about.

Here’s a question: How could you use the Back to School toolkit in your local area? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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