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What actually mental illness is?

A mental disorder also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a behavioural or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Such features may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode. Many disorders have been described, with signs and symptoms that vary widely between specific disorders. Such disorders may be diagnosed by mental health professionals.

The causes of mental disorders are often unclear. Theories may incorporate findings from a range of fields. Mental disorders are usually defined by a combination of how a person behaves, feels, perceives, or thinks.

Common mental disorders include depression, which affects about 264 million, bipolar disorder, which affects about 45 million, dementia, which affects about 50 million, and schizophrenia and other psychoses, which affects about 20 million people globally.

Risk factors

The predominant view as of 2018 is that genetic, psychological, and environmental factors all contribute to the development or progression of mental disorders. Different risk factors may be present at different ages, with risk occurring as early as during prenatal period.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Three of the ten leading causes of disability in people between the ages of 15 and 44 are mental disorders, and the other causes are often associated with mental disorders. Both retrospective and prospective research have shown that most adulthood mental disorders begin in childhood and adolescence.


Stress factors at school—such as unempathetic and unsupportive teacher-student relationships and a poor classroom or school climate—increase the risk for children and adolescents of developing mental health problems.

Why Does Mental Health Matter in Schools?

Addressing mental health needs in school is critically important because 1 in 5 children and youth have a diagnosable emotional, behavioural or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school or in the community.

Many estimates show that even though mental illness affects so many of our kids aged 6-17 at least one-half and many estimates as many as 80% of them do not receive the mental health care they need.

Being able to recognize and support kids mental health in schools matters because:

  • Mental health problems are common and often develop during childhood and adolescence

  • They are treatable!

  • Early detection and intervention strategies work. They can help improve resilience and the ability to succeed in school & life.

In addition, youth with emotional and behavioural disorders have the worst graduation rate of all students with disabilities. Nationally, only 40 per cent of students with emotional, behavioural and mental health disorders graduate from high school, compared to the national average of 76 per cent; 3 and, Over 50% of students with emotional and behavioural disabilities ages 14 and older, drop out of high school. This is the highest drop out rate of any disability group.

How Do Mental Health Disorders Affect Children and Youth at School?

Mental Health Disorders can affect classroom learning and social interactions, both of which are critical to the success of students. However, if appropriate services are put in place to support a young person’s mental health needs we can often maximize success and minimize negative impacts for students.

One of the problems that families frequently run in to is getting the school to recognize the role of mental health disorders in relation to the difficulty their child is having. Getting agreement to put strategies in place to address mental health issues and help the youth to better manage his or her mental health symptoms at school is sometimes equally as challenging.

Children’s mental health can affect young people in a variety of ways to varying degrees in the school environment. One child’s symptoms may be really hard to manage at school while another child with the same condition may not have much difficulty. In addition, like all of us, kids with mental health challenges have good days and bad, as well as, times periods when they are doing really well and times when their mental health symptoms become more difficult to manage.

Children with mental health needs often need a variety of types of supports in school for them to be successful. For example, a child with hyperactivity may benefit from working some activity into their daily classroom routine. A child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder might benefit from their teachers being trained to interact with them in a certain way. A young person who struggles with disorganization might be helped by being taught planning skills. Children who may become aggressive and those who get overly anxious may benefit from exploring what things lead up to those feelings and being taught strategies to recognize when it is happening and things to do to avoid the problem from escalating.

Sometimes their fear of being embarrassed, or getting something wrong or their fear of having to interact with others may lead them to avoid group and social activities and perhaps school all-together.

Possible accommodations or strategies that may help include:

  • Allowing flexible deadlines or letting the student have an option to re-do work so they feel more confident turning it in.

  • Helping the teacher to recognize escalating anxiety in a child and equipping them with the tools to intervene and help the child to implement strategies that help manage their anxiety.

  • Pre-planning for group discussions to help reduce their anxiety about what they will share or say.

  • Make a plan for what to do when they are unable to focus due to worries.

  • Allow for breaks or opportunities to de-stress.

How to Navigate Problems At School:

How you, as a parent, go about navigating problems at school for your child will depend on a variety of factors including the nature of the problem itself and whether or not your child needs or receives special services.

One strategy that is always helpful no matter how you attempt to solve problems is to work to build a strong working relationship with your child’s school and the people in it. This can sometimes feel challenging at first, especially if you feel the school is not yet willing to do what you think your child needs to be successful. But try to keep in mind that you and the professionals at school really do have a common goal in mind and that is to help your child be successful at school.

If your child is having trouble in their classroom it might be best to first meet with the teacher and let them know your concerns. They may have some ideas and be willing to put some strategies in place to help your child.

If that doesn’t resolve the problem you may also want to try to include other school staff such as the principal, social worker, etc. In addition, if your child receives private or public mental health services it may be helpful to ask your child’s therapist to be a part of the meeting as well, as they may be able to provide some much-needed insight about what might help your child.

How to improve the mental health of students?

  1. Value your self.

  2. Take care of your body.

  3. Surround yourself with good people.

  4. Learn how to deal with stress.

  5. Set realistic goals etc.

Mental health is important for everyone. So know that if you’re facing a mental health challenge, you are not alone!

“You are the one thing in this world, above all other things, that you must never give up on. When I was in middle school, I was struggling with severe anxiety and depression and the help and support I received from my family and a therapist saved my life. Asking for help is the first step. You are more precious to this world than you’ll ever know.” — Lili Rhinehart


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