Over the past 18 years students’ mental health has been declining. According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) the number of children between ages 6-17 in the United States with either depression or anxiety have been increasing overtime, 5.4 percent of children had either depression or anxiety in 2003, it rose to 8 percent in 2007 and to 8.4 percent in 2011–2012.
Quarantining, isolation, virtual learning, and adjusting to coming back to school have also taken a toll on students’ mental health. According to Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), 71 percent of students felt an increase in anxiety and stress due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Many teachers at DHS had strategies to help improve students’ mental health even before the coronavirus pandemic. Both IB Language and Literature teacher Dawn Moulthrop Brady and Spanish teacher Erica Meyer have included time in class to improve their students’ mental health for years.
“In Spanish it’s ‘Salud Mental Miércoles’ and in English it’s ‘Mental Health Wednesdays,’” Meyer said. “So actually every Wednesday we don’t do anything now at all. We meditate in Spanish for 10 to 15 minutes. And then the rest of the class the students can use it to do anything that they think would improve their mental health. So for some of them that might be working on an assignment that’s stressing them out. For some of them, it’s just sitting and chilling. For some of them, they go out in the hall and work on something with friends in the class or talk with their friends.”
The only suggestion Meyer asks the students is to stay away from using phones during Salud Mental Miércoles. Meyer believes there are other things much more beneficial to students’ mental health rather than scrolling through social media.
“The only thing I don’t necessarily encourage them to do is play games on their phones or do Snapchat because I think a lot of times our phones, even though they feel good in the moment, they actually end up being bad for our mental health,” Meyer said. “But I think a lot of my students have come to that conclusion on their own. So it’s not like they get in trouble if they’re doing that, but I do encourage them to really think about how to use that 45 minutes or 40 minutes in a way that will make them feel better mentally, which also helps their physical health.”
Moulthrop Brady has some different strategies for each grade to help the students manage their stress and their time. She has different approaches for her senior and junior students.
“For the juniors I’m very purposeful to try to build mindfulness in every day with different activities,” Moulthrop Brady said. “Whether it’s teaching them how to do visualization, counting your breaths, yoga stretches. I’m also trying to really reinforce to them that it’s a process of the classroom that we’re learning not to put so much emphasis on all or nothing culture or point driven existence.”
Moulthrop Brady uses a near no homework policy for her senior students, believing seniors already have enough stress in being a senior.
“For the seniors, really try to be mindful of hoping that they have balance,” Moulthrop Brady said. “When I approach all my planning, I try to take certain things into consideration, big events that are happening within the school community or out in the larger community as a whole based on groups of individuals and their societal activities. And also try to help model how to select to use your time wisely. So I give a lot of in class work time, with the expectation that things will be finished when they need to be finished. And then when I give feedback, the feedback is meant to be more of a guide than a punitive reflection.”
Due to the rise in mental health and mental illness many more teachers are acknowledging their students’ mental and physical health to help through mindfulness, mental health days and adapting their lessons to them.