How to Keep an Eye on Mental Health in Students

Do you look out for the mental well-being of your students? Most would answer “yes” to that question, but unless you actively watch out for the signs, some mental health warning signs will slip through the cracks.

Grant Glas
October 12, 2022
Kids Ministry Leadership

Mental Health Warning Signs, and 5 Ways to Improve It

Sad little girl hugging teddy bear

Do you look out for the mental well-being of your students? Most would answer “yes” to that question, but unless you actively watch out for the signs, some mental health warning signs will slip through the cracks.

Year after year, so many innocent youngsters suffer in silence, unsure how to manage their mental health crises. It is time to change the script, fight stigma, and make a difference. 

Statistics shared by the American Association for Suicide Prevention show that in 2020 alone, there were a shocking 1.2 million suicide attempts. Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the US, and young students often don’t know how to handle these strong feelings. Prevent the youngest members of your church from ever feeling this alone or desperate by looking out for the mental health warning signs and offering support.

Here are some signs of poor mental health, so you can spot danger signs before they spiral out of control.

Mental Health Warning Signs

Writing depressing statements on yourself

  • Excessive sleeping (beyond the normal teenager fatigue).
  • A loss of self-esteem or confidence.
  • Sudden decline in their academic performance or interest in school work.
  • Change in appetite, excessive weight gain or loss.
  • Shifts in temperament towards irritability, sadness, or anger.
  • Risk-taking or dangerous behaviors.
  • Involvement with drugs or alcohol.
  • Self-harming behaviors like self-injury or eating disorders.

Unless you are told directly, it can be hard to identify some of these signs of declining mental health. Open your eyes to the more subtle behaviors of your students, as these could suggest more serious causes. 

For example, if someone wears long sleeves even in the summer, they might be hiding proof of self-injury. Similarly, a sudden and extreme lack of energy could suggest drug or alcohol abuse. Uncharacteristic disinterest in schoolwork can point toward something bigger that is going on.

Why the Holiday Season Can Be Difficult

Teen girl feeling lonely during holiday season

The holiday season is a time for fun, friends, and endless celebrations, right? In reality, unattainably high expectations and feelings of loneliness contribute to a phenomenon known as “holiday blues.” While this feeling is different from a clinical mental health disorder, it is still serious. It can cause a short-term spike in mental health problems that can spiral into something more serious.

For those who already suffer from mental health issues, the holidays will probably only make it worse. A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people with pre-existing mental illness feel worse during the holiday period, due to high emotions, anxiety, and stress. That’s why you must pay extra care and consideration during these periods to prevent your students from feeling overwhelmed by the holidays.

How to Improve Mental Health in Students

For teenagers and young adults, school is particularly difficult. The heat is on, and stress levels run high; it can feel like everything is hanging in the balance. When the pressure is too much to manage, it’s important to have a few tricks up their sleeve to help them unwind, relax, and improve their mental health. Help your students by encouraging them to do these things. 

Regular Exercise

Young kid running around outside

Physical movement is a natural anti-anxiety treatment, providing essential happy hormones, energy, and more. Encourage your students to engage in group sports for fun and a team-building element, but introduce them to more independent forms of activity like running and swimming too. 

Change of Scenery


Feelings of depression can push people into states of stasis, where staying safe at home feels much more appealing than venturing outside, but the only way to fight this is to face it. Tell your students to go on a walk whenever they feel stressed out, as a breath of fresh air can work wonders.

Get Enough Sleep

Young teen girl sleeping

Everyone knows the teenage stereotype that says they rise from bed at noon and laze around all day. While this is there for a reason, as being a teenager is exhausting, they must get enough sleep. Teach them the benefits of going to bed early instead of sleeping in late if they feel tired.

Mindfulness Exercises

Writing mindful thoughts

How to improve mental health in schools? By providing the tools and techniques to manage the ups and downs of life. Urge them to meditate, practice deep breathing, and journal whenever inner tensions get high. You could even include a 5-minute guided meditation session at the end of each class to show them the ropes.

Read for Pleasure

Young teen girl reading outside

Your students might be overrun with academic reading and homework, but reading for pleasure offers an escape, providing a break from the pressures of the outside world and school. Remind them of this, and offer them reading breaks every so often, to stop them from feeling burnt out and helpless. Learn more about burnout here.

When to Report Mental Health Behavior

Calling to report mental health concerns

As a teacher or church worker, you should report mental health behavior when you believe they are at risk of harm or display signs of a mental health crisis. If you notice a shift in their attitude beforehand, urging them towards a ministry or school counselor could be a good idea too. Don’t wait until it’s too late—take action. 

Wondering who to call when worried about someone’s mental health? If you are worried about someone else’s mental health (or your own), find contact information from the National Institute of Mental Health here.

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