Being an educator is not a teacher’s sole job, because teachers have the privilege of wearing many hats. From early education through high school, these instructors act as referees, counselors, coaches, cheerleaders, mentors, role models, and, at times, a trusted confidante to their students.
During the school year, teachers spend up to four hours per day interacting with and observing students’ behavior—both inside and outside of the classroom—either alone or among their peers. As a result, the teacher may be privy to behaviors or actions that are not obvious to parents or guardians.
A recent study published by the American Psychological Association noted rates of mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes had increased significantly among adolescents and young adults over the last decade. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control has sited suicide as the second leading cause of death for people from 10-24 years old.
Inspired by a tragic event as a youth, one high-school teacher from the Bay Area, used her creativity and came up with a simple, vibrant, anonymous, visual display to get her students to share where they were mentally, and to allow them to express their emotions.
This teacher’s mental health check-in idea has taken hold and is being utilized well beyond California—as far away as New Zealand.
The chart is simple. Taking a sticky note, students write their name on the back of the note, and then place the note in the box from a list of boxes that describe their mental state that day.
The daily check-in features sections underneath labeled, “I’m great,” “I’m okay,” “I’m meh,” “I’m struggling,” “I’m having a tough time and wouldn’t mind a check-in,” and “I’m in a really dark place.” If the student falls into one of the last two categories, the teacher is initiates the next step: a follow-up conversation with the student and a trained counselor or behavioral science professional on campus.
Similar activities like sharing circles have helped remove the negative stigma of mental health and have encouraged young people to open-up and talk about their feelings, whether they are battling depression or dealing with a difficult home life. Researchers have found that comparable “social and emotional learning” programs have had similar positive results; increased empathy, self-esteem, and higher grades.
The California Department of Consumer Affairs licenses mental health professionals through the Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Board of Psychology. To locate a professional near you, please visit search.dca.ca.gov.