Promoting Positive Mental Health in K-12 Students

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

There’s no question that teachers and faculty members at elementary, middle, and high schools play critical roles in the educational growth of the students in their care. Through their work, they have the power to impart knowledge, foster a love of learning, and help shape future careers.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, though, that these school professionals have a unique opportunity to do even more: With proper training, they can also help kids and teens develop their social and emotional well-being.

So how can K-12 educators and faculty learn to promote the positive mental health of their students? What should they know about recognizing and addressing signs of mental illness in kids and teens? And where can they turn for resources?

Audience Questions

Mills Smith-Millman, PhD, offers an overview of proven strategies for supporting the mental well-being of students in kindergarten through high school, discusses mental health training options for school professionals, and answers audience questions about common mental illnesses impacting children and adolescents.

  • Can you describe some of the pressures that K-12 students face in their day-to-day lives?
  • What are some of the more common mental illnesses that impact K-12 students?
  • Are you seeing challenges with eating disorders in the K-12 age group?
  • Is substance use something you also see in this age group?
  • What happens when these issues go untreated?
  • We often hear that the K-12 years are especially critical in the development of emotional and social well-being. Why is that the case?
  • When it comes to seeking help for mental health challenges impacting K-12 students, who typically steps forward?
  • How critical is it for the various players in this mix to work together in helping the student?
  • Can you talk about barriers such as stigma that stand in the way of getting access to mental health resources?
  • As a society, how do we train teachers to recognize mental health challenges? What is being done at this point?
  • Do you find that there are common misconceptions that teachers and school staff have about students and their mental health?
  • Can you give us an example of why it might be hard for a teacher to recognize a mental illness such as ADHD or OCD in a student?
  • Can you share some signs of mental health challenges that both parents and teachers can watch for in their children and students?
  • Do you suggest that parents proactively bring up the topic of mental health even if they’re not noticing challenges with their children?
  • Who can kids approach if they are part of the LGBTQ+ community, but their immediate family does not support them? And are you seeing more mental health issues in this community, especially pertaining to schools?
  • Is there a typical age at which identity challenges begin to surface?
  • Given the prevalence of stigma in self-reporting mental health issues, do you have any tips for making students more comfortable disclosing their struggles to parents and/or teachers?
  • What advice do you have in the instance of a student who is under the age of 18 and seeking mental health support outside of what the school system can provide, but whose parent refuses to provide parental consent?
  • How can providers best work with K-12 educators and parents to address school-based mental health issues?
  • What can schools and school districts do to proactively promote mental well-being for K-12 students?
  • What are some strategies for schools looking to better involve parents in this conversation?
  • How can parents best advocate for their schools or school districts to improve their mental health services?
  • Where are we in 2023 with accommodations in schools for kids who are dealing with various mental health challenges? What are your thoughts on those interventions?
  • What are some issues that you’ve noticed and some solutions that you might have for kids with socio-economic barriers to accessing support?
  • Can you speak about how the out-of-the-classroom years of the pandemic impacted K-12 students at the time? How are they impacting kids and teens today?
  • When you look at the pandemic’s impact through your lens of working with schools on mental health well-being, what are some of the lessons that you have learned that you’d like to see implemented moving forward?
  • What should we know about the particular mental health challenges that student athletes might face?
  • What suicide prevention training would you recommend for school counselors?
  • Can you suggest some resources for teachers who want to better train themselves to be prepared to identify and work with students who might be struggling on the mental health front?
  • Can you speak to the effectiveness of peer-to-peer programs?
  • At what age do signs of mental health challenges begin to appear in children?
  • Are there any particular mental health challenges that tend to stand out in the preteen and middle school years?
  • What guidance do you have for parents and teachers working to help high school juniors and seniors navigate anxiety about what comes next in their lives?
  • Can you talk about policy and funding issues you’d like to see addressed around promoting mental health in K-12 students?
  • What is your message for educators wanting to do more to support their students’ mental well-being?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Dr. Smith-Millman

Mills Smith-Millman, PhD, is a staff psychologist with the McLean School Consultation Service, which trains educators and school mental health staff around Massachusetts in the use of scientifically proven mental health interventions.

Dr. Smith-Millman specializes in improving the delivery of mental health services to students in K-12 schools.

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