Mental Health in Schools: Tips for Parents and Teachers


According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 15 million children and adolescents in the Unites States can be currently diagnosed with a mental health disorder and many more are at greater risk of developing a disorder due to distal and proximal risk factors that play a role in the etiology of mental illness, such as biology and the environment, including families, schools, and the community. Common mental illnesses found in children and adolescents include: Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Conduct, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, and Learning Disorders. Parents and teachers play a key role in identifying early symptoms and warning behaviors in order to receive appropriate treatment. However, only 7% of these youth who need mental health services receive help from mental health professionals (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).

Mental health disorders among children are described as serious changes in the way the child typically learns, behaves, or handles their emotions. The symptoms usually start in early childhood, however some of the disorders may develop throughout adolescence. These medical conditions are usually diagnosed during the school years and sometimes earlier but some children go undiagnosed.

Childhood disorders can be treated and managed via evidenced-based treatment interventions. Parents and doctors should work closely with everyone that is involved with child’s treatment, such as, teachers, coaches, therapists, and relatives. Appropriate resources can aid parents, health professionals, and educators make a significant impact in the lives of children with mental disorders.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, mental health is important to overall health. Without early diagnosis and treatment the child with a mental illness may have significant problems at home, school and associating with others, which can interfere with a healthy development and continue into adulthood. Regardless of gender, ethnic/racial backgrounds, and regions of the United States, mental health disorders affects many children and their families. It is estimated up to 1 out of 5 children living in the U.S. experience a mental disorder in a given year and an estimated $247 billion is spent each year on childhood mental disorders (National Research Council and Institute Medicine Report, 2009).

The following are key findings from CDC Report, Mental Health Surveillance Among Children Aged 3-17 years-U.S., 2005-2011:

  • Millions of American children live with depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome or a host of other mental health issues.
  • ADHD was the most prevalent diagnosis in children aged 3-17 years.
  • Boys were more likely than girls to have ADHD, behavioral or conduct problems, autism spectrum disorders, which was highest among 6-11 year olds.
  • Adolescent boys aged 12-17 years were more likely than girls to die by suicide.
  • Adolescent girls were more likely than boys to have depression or an alcohol use disorder. (CDC, 2011)


Parent Tips

  • You know your child best. Talk to their health care professional if you have concerns about the way your child behaves at home, in school, or with friends.
  • Be open to mental health professional’s suggestions and interventions.
  • Talk with other families who are going thru the same situation.  It is important to understand that one should not go thru this alone.  Other people might know what to do in a certain situation that your child might be going thru.
  • Work with the adolescent and their school by having a talk with the child’s teacher or any school official.  Parents can also work with the school to try and promote more positive behaviors, develop more social skills, and find ways to prevent difficult situations at school.
  • Remember that your child’s behavior is due to a disorder, they do not intentionally misbehave.
  • Don’t allow the little things get the best of you, patience is key.
  • Make a chart to encourage your child to do positive things around the house in order to receive positive reinforcement (Engaging your child in little tasks can ultimately encourage learning).

Teacher Tips:

  • Keeping a positive attitude and remaining patient is important.
  • Utilize positive reinforcement when appropriate, i.e., via assignments, positive interactions and relationships, etc. Even a simple verbal praise goes a long way.
  • Work alongside mental health professionals in order to employ appropriate behavioral management strategies in the classroom.
  • Remember you are not only making your classroom have a better environment but you are also changing a children’s life for the better.


Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Research Lab at UTRGV contributed to this article (Vanna Clarke, Marco Gonzalez, Gladis Ruiz, and Sarah Soto)