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By Ava Niemeyer, Interning Correspondent for The Apopka Voice

Parents and teachers: Know the warning signs of student mental health concerns, from a student's perspective

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With the stress of homework, final exams, and the pressure of ensuring a successful future, student life can be a breeding ground for mental health issues. And finding help can be stigmatizing, frightening, and difficult for us.

But it doesn't have to be.

Whether you are a classmate, parent, or educator, you can make sure students are in a healthy mental state by looking for warning signs and being aware of what may cause mental illness.

In my own experience, I have witnessed a classmate slowly change and become less like themselves. They began showing signs of having an eating disorder, were less active, and ultimately disengaged from their friends.

Soon it was noticeable that the eating disorder had morphed into something more.

When I noticed their state of mind, the right thing to do would have been to get them help and make them feel comforted and not alone. By doing this, I would have been able to encourage them back to a healthier state quicker and let them know there are people in their lives who care.

Feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem are causes of concern. Social media expectations of body image ideals can also play a role in mental health. Many who focus on their image, are commonly provoked by negative social or cultural experiences and expectations.

Additional ways to support a student you may suspect is having a difficult time:

1. Affirm them in pursuing or finding personal interests which bring enjoyment to their daily life, such as being involved in creative projects, sports, music, cultural groups, and so on.

2. Help them identify supportive people they might feel comfortable reaching out to when having a bad day or going through a difficult situation, and encourage them to do so

3. Practice holding space for them to share as much or as little information as they feel comfortable when talking about what's causing them stress. Consider asking whether they're interested in hearing any advice you have before offering; they may just want someone who will listen and let them know they aren't alone!

4. Know when to seek professional and/or medical help. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. For crisis support you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text "HELLO" to 741741

A recent death in their family, divorce, or living in a dysfunctional home life are other causes, and often lead to forms of depression. Changing schools can also trigger a student to isolate themselves, and have social anxiety. [During exams, students often become self-critical, haunted by confusion and fear. The advantage of living in the twenty-first century is that every student has access to the Internet where they can find answers to any question. One of the most popular requests in Google is “Help me write my research paper" that means that most students are looking for support with that kind of work. And it is okay to ask for help because it significantly reduces stress in students and helps them to focus on their mental state.]

For educators, one of the best ways to encourage mental health is by creating positive environments in your classroom and around campus. When reinforcing healthy behaviors and encouraging consistent physical routines, it will help students establish positive rhythms and a stronger way of living life. Believe me, students will notice the effort to make us feel important and part of a caring environment.

Educators should also look for ways to invite and encourage students to use the school’s resources for mental health support.

As a rising junior at Forest Lake Academy (FLA), I have found its attention to students and our mental state has helped many understand what they’re going through and how to overcome it. Just by sending out simple surveys that ask meaningful questions and taking days out of the year to dedicate to self-care and student health, FLA is securing a healthy environment.

It's not just teachers, but remember parents and students, you too can play a leading role inspiring healthy habits.

“Encourage helping others,” suggests nasponline.org. “Children need to know that they can make a difference. Positive social behaviors build self-esteem, foster connectedness, reinforce personal responsibility, and present opportunities for affirming recognition. Helping others and getting involved reinforces being part of the community.”

It signifies the need for togetherness when a student is going through something difficult. They should be able to trust the people around them with their burdens. Teachers, parents and students can all offer support and a positive atmosphere. Students do not have to feel alone. And with this support, it is far more likely that we will find the courage to seek help from the community we trust.

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