As a teacher, I have often had students in my class who I worried about for one reason or another. A student who displays certain tendencies towards mental illness, is a special concern for a teacher. There are certain steps a teacher should take, if she thinks a student in her classroom is mentally ill.
The first step is to contact the parents. The child’s issues, behavior or learning problems might be the result of medications or a difficult time the family is going through. It might be something temporary rather than a mental illness. On the other hand, the parents may be able to shed some light on an ongoing mental health issue. Advise the parents/ guardians that you are on the same page concerning their child and would like to have a parent/ teacher conference to discuss how best to help their child.
Parent/ Teacher Conference
At the parent teacher conference, discuss with the parents the issues you are seeing in the classroom. Explain how you and the staff want to help their child and make sure the parents are on the same page as you, the teacher, No parent wants to hear negative about their child, so try to make the meeting a positive experience for the parents, letting them know positive aspects about their child’s work and behavior. A parent who is told positives about their child, is more likely to be willing to work with a teacher on problem areas. Discus with the parents that you are looking at writing a 504 plan which gives a child with medical or mental health problems, assistance via accommodations and modifications in the classroom environment.
Contact the Guidance Office
While a school’s guidance office does not offer mental health counseling, they would be the one to set up any psychological testing or counseling the student needs. In addition, the guidance counselors help teachers create a 504 Plan. In addition, when a student has emotional, learning, behavioral, medical or mental health issues, a Child Study team is often called into play. A Child Study team invites all members of a schools personnel that might be working with a child, including the teacher, special education teacher, psychologist, guidance counselor and parents. A plan is created at this meeting, making sure all the academic and mental health needs of a student have been planned for. Often, the staff will recommend that a student see the child’s psychologist, however a school’s psychologist provides only counseling Parents will need to contact their child’s doctor or a psychiatrist to discuss medication for their child.
A student with mental health issues is best served when all important people are included in decision making, including the parents and important members of the school’s staff. A Child Study team and 504 plan guarantees that a student receives education in the ‘ least restrictive environment’. This means, the student will not be placed in a special classroom or singled out for educational purposes, simply because they have a mental illness. The earlier a child with mental health issues is treated, the better their chances are that their illness will not interfere with their education.