Relationships First: How One Teacher Becomes a Lifeline for a Student's Mental Health

Laura Trieschmann

This story is about a high school teacher's extraordinary efforts to support her students and her belief that relationships come first. It's about a parent who takes the time to acknowledge this teacher's commitment to her son. And it's a story about mental heath and the struggles so many young people face today – struggles that affect their schoolwork, their relationships with friends and family, and the quality of their own lives.

In the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40% among young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

The pandemic, of course, only made thing worse. During the pandemic, 29% of U.S. high school students had a parent or caregiver who lost their job, 55% were emotionally abused by a parent or caregiver, and 11% were physically abused, according to the CDC.

Numerous other factors like online shaming and bullying have also contributed to the crisis. The good news is that there are steps schools can take to help address the problem. One, they can increase the number of professionals who are trained to recognize and treat students suffering from mental health issues. Too many schools across the country have virtually none of these professionals. Another step is for schools to incorporate social and emotional learning programs at all levels of the system – the kind of programs that can dramatically reduce bullying for instance. Unfortunately widespread efforts to promote these programs have been thwarted because social emotional learning programs have become a new target in the culture wars in education. But if parents are able to cut through the noise they will see the true, sometimes life-saving, benefits of these programs for their children.

Additional Resources:

PBS News Hour, November 18, 2022. Schools struggle to hire more mental health professionals for students

American Psychological Association, January 1, 2023. Kids’ mental health is in crisis. Here’s what psychologists are doing to help.

Two-part podcast episode on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
     Part 1: Thriving in Turbulent Times: Why Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is Essential
     Part 2: The Pushback Against Social Emotional Learning. Where it's Coming from and How it Hurts Children


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