How Educators Can Watch for Mental Health Red Flags

As an educator, you may already feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, and things can get more difficult when you’re worried about one of your students.

Research shows that one out of five children have a mental illness and may benefit from something like depression treatment, yet these problems often go undiagnosed.

Of course, as a teacher, it’s not within your capacity to also serve as a therapist, but by being able to recognize warning signs of certain mental illnesses, you may be able to better understand problems a student is experiencing or to speak with their parent or guardian about potential options.

If a mental disorder is identified early and a child then goes through counseling, it can change the outcome of their life.

The following are some things to know about mental illness in students and red flags to watch for.

The Most Common Mental Illnesses In Students

First, it’s useful to have at least a topical understanding of the most common mental disorders impacting students, because they can manifest in very different ways.

The most frequently seen mental health disorders in students include depression, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Initial Signs

One of the first signs there may be a problem, particularly in older students and teens, is a rise in the number of tardies or absences the student has. This can be one of the first behavioral shifts or indicators that something isn’t right, and this is pretty universal across different mental disorders.

Signs of Depression

Depression is very common in young people, and it’s estimated that more than one in five young people will experience clinical depression by the time they reach adulthood.

Some of the signs specific to depression that teachers and educators can look for include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Withdrawing from other students, teachers, and parents
  • Losing interest in school
  • Anger management problems
  • Seeming lethargic or lacking in motivation


As a teacher, you often have a bird's eye view of changes that might be happening in a student’s appearance, performance, behaviors or relationships. Anytime there is a shift or a change in these areas, there may be a deeper problem.

For example, a student may go from having friends to spending the majority of their time alone, or they may start to lose interest in their hygiene and appearance.

So, if you do notice problems, what can you do? As a teacher, you may be somewhat limited, but by knowing how to look for warning signs, you can connect with other resources within the school system who may be able to provide help, such as school counselors and therapists.

Teachers can also open lines of communication with parents or caregivers, and they can work to create an environment of awareness that takes into consideration the needs of students who have a mental disorder.

Simply recognizing a problem exists can go a long way in helping a student get the help and support he or she may need to make positive changes that will last a lifetime. 

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