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How teachers are helping students navigate mental health issues

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Posted at 12:39 PM, Aug 26, 2022

Educators are playing a bigger role in helping students deal with mental health issues.

“While the pandemic did shine a light on the need for mental health services for all of us, it really did something to our kids," said Tracey Moore, a social worker at Compton-Drew Middle School in St. Louis.

Amanda Miller is an art teacher at the school, but she does more than teach about the likes of Vincent van Gogh.

"A lot of our kids do face trauma and that's something that I’m really glad that people are really realizing," she said.

Miller, like many teachers, has taken on the role of looking for signs of students struggling with their mental health. She also assists teachers in preparing for students dealing with mental health issues.

Nationwide, many school districts are asking teachers to play a bigger role in identifying concerns about mental health.

National programs like Mental Health First Aid trained teachers this summer to understand what to do if a student is having a panic attack or where they should turn to if one speaks of harming themselves.

“What I know and what we’ve seen over time is that the shortage of services that are there for mental health outside of the school system, as well as inside of the school system, definitely means that more pressure is put on those who are present," said Tramaine El-Amin, who serves on the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the group behind Mental Health First Aid, which many school districts use to train their teachers on helping students struggling with their mental health.

“It doesn’t teach you to become a therapist or do any type of therapy but it does teach you how to start that conversation," El-Amin said.

Mental Health First Aid has trained 2.7 million people, many of whom are teachers, according to El-Amin.

“When you ask professionals, education professionals why they are leaving the field they often say they don’t have the support they need for students, with emotional behavioral issues," said Dr. Sharon Hoover, a professor at the University of Maryland and co-director for the National Center on School Mental Health.

Hoover believes teachers can play a key role at a time when many districts are struggling to find guidance counselors and therapists.

“It would be helpful for everybody if you have some tools to identify those students, kind of what’s typical or what’s troubled, then how do you support them in the moment, and how do you get them to extra help they needed that's really what we’re talking about here," Hoover said.

As another school year begins, and the role of the teacher continues to evolve, Miller hopes her impact is bigger than just a lesson plan.

"I love being a teacher, I wouldn’t give it up for the world, but I love making sure I help my kids. And that's why I think we get into this job to help our kids," Miller said. "You don’t know what role you're playing in these kids' lives and how they might come back in 20 years and say... "Do you know that you saved me? Do you know that you helped me? You don’t know.”