Most of the time, we tend to resort to the school counsellor whenever we notice a problem in students’ behavior. However, I would like to contend that teachers (class teachers or subject teachers) should also possess a skill that could aid in students’ mental health especially in the area of providing emotional support.
One of the main contestations for this would be is that although teachers have the realization that it is part of their fundamental role as teachers, some have expressed that those who are not school counsellors are not trained to address student mental health problems and it is not within a teacher’s area of expertise. This is in accordance with a study done by Mazzer and Rickwood (2015). This is also evident with the opinions of the teachers around me. However, teachers are being placed in a position where they are able to recognize issues concerning students’ social and emotional well-being and can play a valued role in the help-seeking process. It would be an advantage for us to have the required skills ourselves and not solely relying on the school counsellors for such problems.
Adolescents are at a vunerable stage for experiencing mental health difficulties but many of these difficulties are only being dealt with using disciplinary policies, intead of perceiving it as symptoms of underlying emotional issues (Whitley, 2010). What I observe is that only those with disciplinary problems such as those who skip school or getting into fights with other students are the ones who get sent to the school counsellors. Some teachers are not aware that what they did could have stemmed from their own emotional problems. We tend to go for the punitive approach instead of investigating further into the area of their emotions. This is where emotional support should come in. Emotional support here doesn’t mean being lenient with them or enabling harmful thoughts or behavior to perpetuate. This just means we encourage them to express how they feel and their problems which then should be followed by advice that could reshape the way they view the situation that have caused their emotional issues.
A study by Suldo, Friedrich, and White (2009) clarified that emotional suppport is the type of teacher support that is most related to students’ life satisfaction. This would mean that the mental health of the students are well maintained when teachers provide emotional support for the students and not by only relying on the school counsellor to address problems that are related with emotional issues. Other than school satisfaction, other factors can be improved such as their academic competence and social skills.
Apart from the lack of competence and skills, the ultimate barrier for teachers to apply and provide emotional support and mental health promotion is that non-academic tasks are perceived as a tasks that require a lot of time and an inhibitory factor for teaching progress in class (Ekornes, 2016). This is the effect when the mandate of schools has traditionally focused on academic, rather than psychological outcomes for students. The solution for this is to provide mental health literacy for teachers which could be dealt with by providing training and a school-friendly approach to mental health literacy intervention which is tied into a large education and health system (Kutcher, Wei, and Hashish, 2016). This is an integrated model that promotes a horizontal and seamless pathway through mental healthcare for young people.
Resorting to sending the students to the school counsellor when certain kinds of emotional issues can be dealt by the teachers themselves is a result of a school culture that only focuses on academic aspect and a system whereby teachers are not being trained for mental health literacy. With regards to the stigma on mental health, this would be further exacerbated when teachers are not integrated as the personels that should be aware of and spread mental health literacy. As for me personally, it is my personal belief that as a teacher, I should be able to provide and offer emotional support to my students and attend to them but within my professional boundaries. I will only send them to school cunsellors if the emotional problem is outside of my professional capacity.
Ekornes, S. (2016). Teacher Stress Related to Student Mental Health Promotion: the Match Between Perceived Demands and Competence to Help Students with Mental Health Problems. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 61(3), 333–353. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2016.1147068
Kutcher, S., Wei, Y., & Hashish, M. (2016). Mental Health Literacy for Students and Teachers. Positive Mental Health, Fighting Stigma and Promoting Resiliency for Children and Adolescents, 161–172. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804394-3.00008-5
Mazzer, K. R., & Rickwood, D. J. (2014). Teachers role breadth and perceived efficacy in supporting student mental health. Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 8(1), 29–41. doi: 10.1080/1754730x.2014.978119
Suldo, S., Friedrich, A., White, T., Farmer, J., Minch, D., & Michalowski, J. (2009). teacher support and adolescents’ subjective well-being: A Mixed-Methods Investigation. School Pschology Review, 38(1), 67–85.
Whitley, J. (2010). The Role of Educational Leaders in Supporting the Mental Health of All Students. Exceptionality Education International, 20(2), 55–69. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Role-of-Educational-Leaders-in-Supporting-the-Whitley/1261888db3b68a711d3e9dc0b791970667828b02