Never underestimate the power of a teacher. In so many cases, when students look back on their experiences in school - if those experiences shaped their future - you will often hear them say "There was this teacher...".  When students place their future and trusts in the hands of educators, it is paramount that educators fully understand mental health and its role in a student's development.

One of the keys to fighting stigma is education. Students spend a great deal of their lives interacting with teachers and professors. These relationships could be greatly advantaged by a teacher's awareness of the symptoms of mental illness. If teachers were empowered with knowledge and understanding of mental illness, their impact on the mental health of their students would be spectacular.

Grade-school children with serious emotional disturbances - according to SAMHSA - have the highest rates of school failure because of the discrimination and stigma associated with these disorders. SAMHSA also cites that 50 percent of these students drop out of high school, compared to 30 percent of all students with disabilities. The situation gets worse as the students get older: college-age students are especially vulnerable to mental illness as many psychiatric disorders first emerge in the late teens or early twenties.

Every school is a community within a community. Each school community needs to act like a village when addressing the needs of their students. In order for a student with mental illness to get the care they need, everyone in the 'school community' - from teachers and guidance counselors, to the principal and nurse - needs to know and embrace the facts about mental illness. Throughout the formative years and through adolescence, mental health can have a profound effect on the ability to focus, hand in assignments, develop social skills, and simply stay in school. Therefore, the issue of mental health cannot be taken out of this equation.

Collaboration with parents is a vital part of the student-teacher relationship. Sometimes parents are unable to recognize mental illness in their own children. Sometimes they do recognize it but are afraid to address it for fear of stigma. When parents, teachers, and administrators work together when addressing the mental illness of a student, everybody wins. When accommodations are made for students with mental illness, they are given the chance to excel and to flourish. With all supports systems working in harmony, teachers can function positively in the class environment, parents feel supported in knowing that their children are getting what they need, and most importantly, students are not isolated by their illness. Instead, these young people are given a second chance at a good start, so that they can lay the foundation for living their lives to the fullest potential.

Disability Offices - Community and County Colleges
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