As educators see children in “norming” groups that parents don’t have access to, they can play a key role in early identification of students with mental health needs. The Red Flags materials for school staff are suitable for all grade levels and would ideally be used district wide.
Red Flags objectives for school personnel:
- Recognize the symptoms of depression and other common mental illness in children
- Understand the school’s protocol for referring children at risk for mental illness
- Acquire a toolbox of strategies and feel confident assisting youth with mental illness
How to help
There are many ways that schools and teachers can assist students with depression or other related disorders that may interfere with their studies. Many of these accommodations are simple and relate to human kindness. Other accommodations may require more structure.
- Have the right attitude. Most students with these disorders can and wish to succeed. Resist the temptation to view them as “attention-getters” or “slackers.” These are genuine learning disorders, and your understanding and patience can make a significant difference in the student’s ability to learn.
- Reduce classroom stress. Healthy competition and encouragement are great incentives to learning but avoid rigid deadlines, lowering grades for non-academic reasons such as messy work or incorrect headings, etc.
- Stay flexible. Students with these disorders CAN learn, but they cannot always keep the same schedule as the rest of the class. Allow extra time for homework, tests, missed days. Do not issue rigid ultimatums. You will put yourself in a box and your student in a panic.
- Expect disorganization and forgetfulness. Make sure you have copies of any material you entrust to a depressed student. They are likely to misplace or lose it. Plan out the week’s homework and give it as a handout at the beginning of the week or put it online. Kids with these disorders often forget to write down assignments, miscopy, or get confused with verbal directions.
- Give the benefit of the doubt. Rather than scold the student, encourage him/her to try harder, and assist the students in finding accommodations that will work for them. Allow for make-up work, or lessen workload for students who seem to have mastered material or who are overwhelmed.
- Find the good and praise it! Kids with these disorders find school doubly hard. They must master the work, and they must overcome their disorder. They frequently suffer from low self-esteem. Often they are extremely sensitive and much harder on themselves than their teachers or parents are. Give generous and genuine praise for their efforts; downplay their failings, make much of their successes. Never demean, ridicule, embarrass, or publicly scold a student with a mental disorder.
- Acquaint yourself with more structured options for accommodations. IEP’s can be very helpful for students with persistent and/or treatment resistant disorders. 504’s are designed for students whose accommodation needs are less severe, but problematic enough to require relaxation of usual protocols. These may include guaranteed additional time on tests or with homework assignments, late arrival, relaxation of attendance regulations, home schooling or tutorial assistance in some areas.
- Exercise compassion. No mandated accommodation or special class can ever substitute for patience, kindness, and willingness to go the extra mile. A teacher’s greatest satisfaction comes from nurturing the academic success of students who have the most need of a teacher.