Mental Health Awareness Month 2023: We Support the Whole Person

St. Agnes Academy
How can schools celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month 2023? Resources, training, the right people, and more! Read about early adopter schools ensuring their students’ mental health is taken care of.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month! During Mental Health Awareness Month 2023, we want to shed light on how you can help your daughter handle stress and thrive during these critical high school years.

Important Background on Mental Health Awareness

While conversations surrounding the world of mental health may feel prevalent only within the past 10-15 years (certainly exacerbated by the pandemic), the concept was established "officially" in 1909 by Clifford Beers' founding of Mental Health America, formerly known as the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Four years later, Beers opened the first outpatient clinic for mental health patients in the U.S.

A 2019 research letter from JAMA Pediatrics, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association, states that one in six children between 6 and 17 experiences a mental health disorder annually. The National Library of Medicine noted that half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14.

According to the Federal Reserve System, the second most significant use of time for a "school-aged child" was time spent in school, second only to sleep. Considering the amount of time your child spends in school should stress the importance of what influences your child is surrounded by daily.

Thankfully, schools like St. Agnes consider mental health a top priority year-round and beyond graduation. No matter whether a student, faculty, or staff member, St. Agnes vows to consider the whole person.

Some months may bring about difficult conversations due to current events, while others offer more festive and fun activities. Events like Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 will always be celebrated!

Mental Health Awareness Month 2023: Four Ways Schools Can Help Their Students

Mental health conditions affect all different types of people. While sadly, discrimination affects some groups of people more than others concerning their mental health and safety, mental health disorders do not discriminate. Any race, age, gender, and ethnicity can be affected.

Not sure what exactly might be considered a mental health condition? Mental Health America lists all mental health conditions, including signs, symptoms, statistics, and resources. Some common mental health conditions in high school-aged children include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Conduct disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders

Additionally, self-harm and suicide fall within the categories of mental health concerns among teenagers.

Fortunately, many opportunities allow schools to be safe places for students daily. Read more about four ways schools can help students and employees thrive in their mental health journeys.

1. Personnel 

The employees of a school are the guardians, teachers, and role models to all students. Hiring processes should thoroughly vet and seek out those that fit best with the school's mission and culture.

St. Agnes's mission statement states it is a school that "challenges young women through exceptional academic preparation and transformational experiences to lead with integrity, joy, and a commitment to social justice."

Within the fine lines of this statement, it is made clear to every employed faculty and staff member the importance of the student's physical and mental safety, ultimately ensuring they will be able to achieve all the mission statement lives up to. 

Those hired to work at St. Agnes come with some training within their department. Science teachers have a background in science, the IT department has worked with technology, and the Wellness Counselors have training in fields of mental health, whether that is a licensed social worker or licensed professional counselor.

Our counselors can provide recommendations or referrals to students in need. Their duties allow them to help reduce barriers to children and families who require treatment but may be unsure where to turn. 

Outside the walls of St. Agnes, awareness for the cause has gone as far as Congress with the "Mental Health Services for Students Act," which would provide funding for schools nationwide to partner with mental health professionals to establish on-site mental health care services for students.

2. Educator Training

Many schools require their employees to undergo a certain number of hours of training concerning the safety of the school. These modules may include what to do in times of distress such as fire, active shooter, or weather event, and even when a student may be in danger from his or herself or their immediate family members.

Teachers and staff members learn to identify signs of an emerging mental health condition, perhaps from a conversation or visible signs of abuse or neglect. Furthermore, they are trained on the following best action to help move that child to a place of feeling safe. In schools like St. Agnes, the first move is often to call the student's Wellness Counselor for guidance and a plan of action. 

Employee training also include modules on safe work environments. The lessons learned in these trainings trickle down to how teachers create a safe learning environment. Any signs of racism or other discrimination in the classroom can directly impact a student's mental health and should not be tolerated.

3. Classroom Materials 

As buildings and playgrounds become more and more accessible to different types of people, so do classrooms.

Children with ADD or ADHD can now enjoy different styles of desks and chairs that offer them the freedom to move while learning in a non-distracting way. Many teachers welcome their students to hold any "fidget" object if it helps settle their hands and minds, ultimately allowing them to learn the material better.

While not necessarily a material object, designated "safe spaces" allow teachers and students to discuss an issue without judgment or ridicule. Students may find different sounding boards at home or within their group of friends.

Allowing students an opportunity to collect before reaching a place of trauma or anxiety may be crucial to their development.

4. Resources 

It falls within a school's due diligence to have an official list of psychologists, therapists, treatment centers, doctors, counselors, books, websites, and coping mechanisms ready at a moment's notice. 

Early awareness or treatment can help children and their families stay on track in their social or emotional growth paths and even a student's studies. Many professionals believe that earlier treatment results in better outcomes and ultimately lower costs - to the child or society.

The longer an issue goes untreated or unaddressed creates, a much more challenging condition to treat. Websites like Mental Health America's "Mental Health 101" are great resources if you or a family member is not ready to speak to a member of your child's school staff. 

The St. Agnes Wellness Department constantly shares resources with staff, students, and parents. Whether it is a "Care Dogs" event where therapy animals are on campus to bring happiness to our students or a month-long celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 with weekly treats and learning opportunities, the counselors are always thinking of the next best way to help.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Month includes goodies in teachers' mailboxes to boost happiness, a parent lunch & learn Zoom session, a movie screening of "Inside Out," a "self-care self-love station," and a treat for students undergoing final exams. 

A Final Message About Mental Health: Have Hope

Beliefs, stigmas, treatments, and outcomes are different now from the early 1900s. Can you imagine Clifford Beers learning about the current-day teletherapy industry? He would be incredibly proud of the offerings many schools have in place to help promote a safe mental health learning environment.

Thankfully, schools like St. Agnes work to develop the student's whole person, not just her academic or athletic side. With help from teachers, counselors, mentors, parents, and friends, our students have a profound grasp on who they are and what they need to succeed when they leave for college.

Interested in learning more about our Wellness Center? Reach out to any of the counselors to see what resources may be available or for ideas on celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 at your school or in your home!