Mental health in the Classroom: How We Can Help Today’s Students Succeed

Simple strategies to boost student performance.
Wil Massara
Mar 27, 2024
Mental health
Classroom culture can foster mental health.

The relentless pressure to excel, coupled with the complexities of the modern world, places an immense burden on the shoulders of today's learners. The constant demand to perform at a high level can lead to stress, anxiety, and, in some cases, burnout.

Conversely, when students come to the classroom with a sense of mental wellbeing, they’re far more likely to succeed academically. A 2021 meta-analysis of 81 studies found that general wellbeing affected academic achievement positively.

Educators play a crucial role in fostering students’ wellbeing. By prioritising mental health in the classroom, educators can help contribute to a positive learning environment, enabling students to reach their full potential a grow into confident, resilient adults.

From promoting empathetic communication to implementing mindfulness and stress reduction techniques, here are three key strategies for creating a supportive classroom environment that isn’t afraid to tackle mental wellbeing head-on.

Implement Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques
In the age of short-form content, brain breaks are incredibly important. Incorporate brief breaks during classes to allow students to recharge, reducing stress and promoting overall wellbeing. Integrating mindfulness exercises into the daily routine can be a great way to help students manage stress and enhance focus.

Simple breathing exercises or short mindfulness sessions can make a significant difference. One useful and simple breathing technique is called ‘box breathing’, which involves breathing in for four seconds, holding for four, breathing out for four, and holding for four.

The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 technique is another unique way to incorporate mindfulness into day-to-day activities. Ask students to list five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. This is a great grounding technique and can be done as a class or as a solo technique to practice whenever they need it.

Encouraging Self-care
Emphasise the importance of self-care practices, such as adequate sleep, regular exercise, and healthy nutrition. Encourage students to investigate the link between physical wellbeing and mental health, and suggest enjoyable ways that they can make self-care work for them.

Self-care looks different for everyone, so this isn’t about being prescriptive–rather, giving students the tools they need to start caring for themselves in whatever ways work best for them and their individual needs.

Self-care practices should be encouraged beyond the classroom and school life. Actively reinforce the idea that taking care of one's mental health is a lifelong skill that extends far beyond the academic setting.

Open and Empathetic Communication
Creating a classroom culture where students feel comfortable discussing their emotions is an essential element of mental wellbeing, but it’s often something that can be quite difficult to measure or pin down.

To get there, educators should do their best to encourage open conversations and actively listen to student’s concerns. Open lines of communication can help to promote a sense of belonging and reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

Engage students in meaningful conversations by asking questions that go beyond academics. Inquire about their wellbeing, interests, and personal challenges. These kinds of conversations go deeper than surface-level small talk, helping to show that you care about them as individuals, not just as students.

Over time, a compassionate, curious approach can help to build trust between educators and students. When students feel supported, they are more likely to share their struggles and seek help when needed.

Finally, remember that children and young adults are keen observers, and they often model their behaviour on the actions of the people around them. By demonstrating self-care and a positive attitude towards ourselves, we can create a healthy atmosphere that encourages students to prioritise their own mental wellbeing in the classroom and beyond.

Wil Massara is a young social entrepreneur, whose journey began at the age of eleven. At 15, he founded the Youth Leadership Academy Australia (YLAA), revolutionising youth leadership nationwide. YLAA is now the largest youth-led provider, positively impacting over 30,000 lives and earning the trust of 1000+ schools.

Image by Ketut Subiyanto