Teach in the UK• 3 Min read

2nd September 2021

How To Spot Signs Of Student Mental Health 

As a new term begins, everyone will be relieved that schools are returning with some normality. Pre-pandemic, mental health issues were reported in around one in 6 young people. Post-pandemic evidence suggests that more children than ever are battling anxiety and depression.

Although many pupils will be excited to return to classrooms, there will be some for whom the sudden return to classroom life will be a struggle. We’ve shared the below tips to help teachers spot the signs of mental health concerns in children and young people, as well as where to go if you need help and support with dealing with any mental health or wellbeing issues raised in your class.


It’s vital for both adults and children to talk about mental health, both at home and in school. Creating a culture of openness and frank discussion around mental health issues will make it easier for students to come forward when they are struggling. Older children especially need to be aware of the types of feelings and anxieties they might encounter during puberty and beyond. Talking about feelings and ways to find help for depression, suicidal feelings and self-harm, in a safe setting with a teacher, gives children the language they need to vocalise their own thoughts and creates confidence to talk if they need to.

READ MORE: How To Have A Mentally Healthy Classroom

   Spot Behavioural Changes

Unlike adults, children are less able to hide their feelings and can exhibit more severe changes in behaviour when faced with mental health issues, especially if they aren’t sure what’s happening to them. If pupils are struggling with their mental health, they might display unusual behaviour, lash out more than normal, or struggle in areas they were previously confident in. Keep an eye out for:

  • Low self-esteem shown by making negative comments about their appearance, work or ability.
  • Irritability or sudden anger over seemingly small things
  • Obvious signs of lack of sleep
  • Frequent absences, either explained or unexplained
  • ‘Jokes’ or mentions of suicide
  • Reckless behaviour outside of normal teenage pranks
  • Crying, if unusual for the individual

Spotting these signs in classrooms isn’t easy. Getting to know your pupils and their usual patterns of behaviour will help you to recognise if something changes. Changes can be subtle – you might find a pupil only exhibits worrying behaviour in high-stress situations. Knowing what is ‘normal’ for each individual will help you to quickly provide support, signpost the pupil to an appropriate service or, if needed, raise the issue with another member of staff.


Knowledge and research available around mental health improves every day. Receiving appropriate training on spotting and managing mental health within the classroom will improve your career as well as give you all the tools you need to address the mental health needs of the pupils that you teach.

We recommend our partners, Creative Education and their collection of short courses and pathways around mental health, among many other topics. Their courses are designed by true education experts, with years of experience. Here are a few suggestions for teachers looking to improve their knowledge around mental health issues in schools:

There’s plenty of other options too – don’t forget, if you are registered with Engage Education, you get free-forever access to Creative Education’s library. Find out more about this great perk here.

   Connect With Local Services

Most areas have various services for young people and their parents to access mental health help when needed. Connecting with your local drug rehabilitation services, youth clubs and charities that support young people in the area will mean you always have somewhere to go if you need help or confidential advice. Many charities around young peoples mental health offer school services such as talks or workshops which are worth looking at if you feel your class could benefit. Raising money for local mental health charities as part of your school’s wider fundraising will also reinforce the importance of their work and raise their profile among your pupils.

The Princes Trust have a fantastic list of charities that help young people, organised alphabetically from Anxiety UK to Young Minds.

How Can You Help Pupils Suffering From Mental Health Issues?

If you are working in the UK, your school will probably have a procedure for supporting children that are struggling. Speaking to your mentor or Head Of Department is always the best place to start. Being a listening ear is the best piece of advice that many of our teachers have given. If it seems that a pupil needs to talk, making time for them to express their worries will give you a better insight into whether the situation will pass naturally or is part of something bigger and more serious. Always confide in a mentor or senior member of staff if you are genuinely worried about a pupil.

Finally, make sure you look after your own mental health. To be the most helpful and supportive to others suffering, you need to maintain your own health and wellbeing. Find ideas and support especially for teachers at Education Support – a charity dedicated to positive mental health in the teaching community.

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