7 Ways to Support Students’ Mental Health

In 2009, when our oldest children were in elementary and middle school, our local Parent Teachers Association hosted showings of the film, Race to Nowhere to shine a light on the extreme levels of stress and burn out experienced by students across the country. These students were struggling to develop coping skills, to find ways to focus on their mental health, and to balance academic goals with emotional needs. 

Today’s students might argue that they are even more stressed. 

Between the social-emotional post-pandemic catch up, global uncertainty and dangers, and the greater academic stresses in our more competitive world, students are more debilitated than ever by external stress factors. 

To accommodate students’ increased stress levels, schools can expand social-emotional learning programs, make a greater effort to recognize signs of trauma and behavioral changes in students, provide mental health support for students, and support mental health professionals in academic environments. 

Simultaneously, students should take the following 7 steps to help them develop coping skills, find ways to focus on their mental health, and to balance academic goals with their emotional well-being.

  1. Meditate and get mindful. Mindfulness and meditation promotes self-control, objectivity, tolerance, enhanced flexibility, improved concentration and mental clarity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to relate to other people with kindness, acceptance, and compassion. Karin Elias, owner of Dancing Turtles Wellness, suggests, “We hold stress and traumatic experiences in our body. Our muscles get tight, or posture changes which affect our breath. Bodywork relaxes the nervous system and allows us to breathe more freely. That has a calming effect on our  mind and gets us to be more grounded. Focusing on the breath is a form of meditation which enables us to be more present in the moment. This kind of calm alertness creates a better chance to not become overwhelmed by our tasks ahead. Introducing mindfulness, meditation and bodywork to our children at an early age encourages them to listen to the wisdom of their bodies.” 
  1. Eat right. Studies show that a healthy diet comprising fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, low fat dairy, and antioxidants, are associated with a reduced risk of depression. Sugar and processed foods can lead to inflammation within the body and brain. An inadequate or unhealthy diet can lead to fatigue, slow reaction time, and impaired decision-making, which can ultimately lead to a higher risk of depression. The best diets to boost mental health include fruits, vegetables, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon), dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and green beans.  
  1. Get sufficient rest and exercise regularly. Getting enough rest and exercise improves your mental well being and your self-esteem. Getting both rest and exercise cause chemical changes in your brain and can have a positive impact on your mood. Whether students run, do aerobics, or stretch, exercise helps them to focus mentally, while taking the time to wind down, away from electronic devices and social media, gives their mind a mental break.  “It’s super important for students to get enough sleep and to be physically active. Both help to keep stress and anxiety levels lower,” notes Dr. Kathy Hirsch, a psychologist in private practice in Mt. Kisco, New York, who treats children, teens, and adults. 
  1. Connect with other people. Strong relationships are important for students’ mental health. They help students to build community, to create a sense of belonging, and to provide opportunities to share experiences with others. Strong relationships can also be a solid source of emotional support for students, enabling them to lean on others and to be a source of comfort for their peers and friends. “If a student is feeling overwhelmed, speaking to a friend, family member and, of course, reaching out to a mental health professional, can help alleviate symptoms,” suggests Dr. Hirsch. 
  1. Give back to others. Acts of kindness and giving back to others creates positive feelings and gives students a sense of purpose and self-worth. It is also a positive way in which to connect with others. Whether students are participating in large-scale volunteer activities or simply helping out a peer, the act of helping other people helps to establish a stronger, more positive mindset. If students go out of their way to do something as simple as listening to a peer in need of support or immerse themselves in something more time-intensive, like helping out at a local health clinic, students gain perspective on the world and learn to focus on something other than the issues causing them stress. 
  1. Make time for fun. Make a list of activities that bring joy. Whether students like going to a concert or a movie or taking a hike on local trails, taking time to do something for purely entertainment purposes is essential to managing stress and keeping emotions in check. 
  1. Make sure that students are not sinking in school. When students start to fall behind in school, they become overwhelmed. They can become depressed and anxious. Often their self-esteem diminishes, and they stop being academically motivated. Before students become overwhelmed, make sure that students have effective support systems in place to stay on top of their schoolwork. Contact GAMECHANGER Tutoring Connection to connect to academic tutors, from preschool through career prep, and extracurricular specialists. Contact GAMECHANGER Tutoring Connection to connect your kids to confidence. 

Stop students’ “race to nowhere.” It is more important than ever to be aware that students need help and need strong coping mechanisms to manage their mental health. Ultimately, as Dr. Hirsch points out, “Learning skills to manage stress and to understand one’s emotions helps students stay mentally healthy.”


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