Back-to-School Navigation: Promoting Mental Health for Students, Parents, and Teachers

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By Dr. Nelson E. Soto, Ph.D., President of Albizu University

With back-to-school season right around the corner, students, parents, and educators are preparing with anticipation, but that anticipation comes accompanied by anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. It is important to recognize and treat the mental health issues that frequently accompany this transitional time when getting ready for a new academic year is underway. I am a committed advocate for mental health awareness and an educational leader. I draw on those experiences when I speak about the value of giving students, parents, and educators the resources they need to deal with the emotional difficulties that develop in academic settings. We can protect our wellbeing during this hectic period by adopting evidence-based practices and strengthening our resilience.

Navigating the Emotional Challenges of Returning to School

Returning to school after a break can evoke a range of emotions in students, from excitement to nervousness and even apprehension. Many of these feelings are temporary and perfectly healthy, but some students may face deeper emotional and psychological challenges during this transition, such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. As parents, educators, and community members, understanding these emotional hurdles is paramount, helping us identify warning signs and intervene before escalations.

Empathy, awareness, and support can go a long way in creating an environment favorable to students’ well-being. Still, evidence-based strategies can be particularly effective in helping students manage stressors and cope with the pressures of academia. Some examples include regular exercise, mindfulness practices, establishing a support system, and maintaining a healthy diet. By equipping students with these invaluable tools, we can help them to strike a healthy balance between academic responsibilities and their mental well-being, ensuring a smoother transition back to the educational setting.

Identifying Warning Signs and Seeking Help

The academic journey can be demanding, and it is perfectly normal for students to encounter some levels of stress and anxiety. Still, parents and educators should be hyper-vigilant about students’ mental health and recognize the warning signs of profound emotional distress.

Below are some common warning signs that may indicate your student or child is struggling:

  • Underperformance or difficulties in concentrating in school despite significant effort
  • Persistent worry or anxiety leading to a refusal to participate in age-appropriate activities, attend school, or sleep well
  • Frequent physical complaints, mood swings, or notable changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Repeated use of alcohol and/or drugs

Parents and educators can work together to openly communicate about mental health concerns to address any warning signs promptly and facilitate the appropriate support for students in need. Parents can find out what services are offered at school, such as psychologists or counselors. Parents must speak to their children or teens before requesting help to ensure their confidence. Various resources are available online and outside of school, including pediatricians and mental health professionals. A supportive network can help ensure that students receive the necessary support.

Building Resilience and Coping Skills

Resilience is a critical attribute that enables students to navigate the multifaceted challenges of education and life. It equips them to endure setbacks, adapt to changes and emerge stronger from difficulties, aiding their personal growth and development.

There are a few simple ways that parents and educators can help their children nurture this trait: 

  • Help them make engaging connections with their peers and community members
  • Maintain a healthy daily routine that leaves room for relaxation and self-care
  • Practice a positive self-view and hopeful outlook
  • Allow space for self-discovery, promote inclusion, and praise any progress
  • Use programs designed for schools to promote emotional learning
  • Have them attend therapy at local community clinics like the Albizu clinic

By incorporating these practices into daily routines, we can instill resilience in our students and children and cultivate their social-emotional intelligence, equipping them to thrive in their educational journeys. Recognizing when it is necessary to seek professional help is a crucial aspect of promoting resilience among students, and parents play a pivotal role in guiding their children through difficulties and preparing them for real-world challenges. As parents, educators and advocates, our collective responsibility is to empower the next generation to succeed.

Fostering Supportive Learning Environments

Educational institutions also play a fundamental role in fostering supportive learning environments. Educators, administrators, and counselors positively impact students’ lives, offering much-needed mentorship and guidance. At Albizu University, for instance, we take pride in prioritizing students’ mental health and ensuring our curriculum incorporates hands-on training to enhance academic performance and inspire student confidence in our students.

Educators can adopt mental health strategies to integrate support into their curriculum and classroom settings by utilizing on-campus resources or collaborating with existing state, district, and school programs. Considering they are often on the front lines of fielding student concerns and behaviors, educators should also employ self-care techniques and evidence-based strategies to maintain their well-being. To better support students, they can participate in mental health awareness training, encourage social and emotional competency, and refer students to school-based support programs.

As we gear up for another back-to-school season, we must embrace this transitional period with empathy, understanding, and a strong focus on mental well-being. By proactively addressing the emotional challenges that students, parents, and educators may face, we can contribute to a welcoming academic environment. As a fierce advocate for mental health, I firmly believe that adopting a holistic approach to mental well-being will benefit all of us. Let us embark on this new academic year with a shared commitment to prioritize mental health and meet students, parents, and educators with compassion wherever they are.

About the Author: Dr. Nelson E. Soto serves as the President of Albizu University. Dr. Soto is a visionary leader with a passion for academic excellence and a commitment to fostering an inclusive and vibrant learning community. As the university’s highest-ranking official, President Soto brings a wealth of experience and a proven track record of transformative leadership in higher education.

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