Our environments can have a powerful impact on how we view things, especially in how we view the things about ourselves. Because adolescents spent a lot of time in school, their teachers, their classmates, and the content that they learn can influence how they interpret information. This also includes mental health: conversations with peers and the ways that teachers talk about their expectations on students can have subtle, but lasting effects.
Overall, there has been a general movement to include more education about mental health in classrooms. This includes training programs to address youth mental health for school personnel, and states like New York and Virginia now make it mandatory to include mental health instruction in classes (New York in all grades from kindergarten to 12th grade, Virginia in 9th and 10th grade).
There are other ways for students to change their views on mental illness in school, but outside of the classroom where they are directly taught about it. How the school reacts to student stress, how the teacher interacts with the students, overhearing conversations between classes, and even posters in hallways can have an influence. School is so much more than just an education, and everything that goes into the school experience and how students function in schools can be defined as “school climate.”
School climate can be categorized into safety, engagement, and environment. Students, parents, and teachers answered questions in a survey about what they thought about their schools and these categories, and also answered questions to assess their knowledge about mental health, specifically with depression. There was a significant relationship between school climate, knowledge about depression, and stigma, showing that the more “positive” the school climate was, the less likely that students held a stigma about mental health and the more educated they were about the topic.
A positive school climate, based on the results, meant things like students feeling that their teachers cared about them and that they felt safe at school. This kind of climate, combined with mental health programs in classes, can help adolescents feel more comfortable talking about mental health and if they have a mental illness, not just because they are learning about the facts, but they know that they are in a space where they feel respected.
How do you think schools can help students learn more about mental health? How can schools adjust their environments to normalize mental health?