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Improving mental health in schools is key to successful learning

Shashank Joshi discusses the impact of a proactive attitude towards mental health awareness and mental illness treatment, and why mental health in schools is key for student engagement and learning in this podcast.

As a college student, it’s not uncommon to walk into a study hall and see students up until 3 or 4 a.m. relentlessly trying to grasp concepts, often with a look of distress on their faces. I recognize them, because they’ve been sitting there since about 9 p.m., and they’ve been there nearly every day this week, just as I have.

I often talk about anxiety, overwhelming stress, and other mental health issues with friends and fellow students. Many of us are struggling to balance the stresses of home life, social commitments, and the desire to master a rigorous curriculum, all factors that can contribute to poor mental health. These mental battles undoubtedly affect a student’s ability to learn.

Mental health in education was the topic of a recent episode of Stanford Radio’s School's In podcast. Hosts Dan Schwartz, PhD, and Denise Pope, PhD, welcomed guest Shashank Joshi, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, as he discussed initiatives in schools to address mental health issues and to train school staff to identify at-risk students.

Following the suicides of several Bay Area teens from 2009-2011, Joshi described how he and his colleagues began working with local educators, primary care physicians, mental health professionals, and community leaders to develop a set of programs to train school staff and educators to identify early warning signs of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts to get students help quickly.

In the episode, Joshi explains that the programs seek to “embrace the idea from a policy perspective that mental health is part of overall health."

Joshi and colleagues also developed resources for students to learn more about mental health and to reduce the associated stigma. He described why talking about these issues is critical:

Mental health is really important for overall health. If you’re in school, you need to be healthy enough to learn. We need to share the data that talking about suicide does not increase the risk.

There’s been plenty of work on this that’s been published showing that when you discuss the idea of suicide responsibility and discuss resources, you can get kids to talk about it in a more open way, not go underground, not feel stigmatized, and get them help upstream, instead of at a desperation downstream point.

In the episode, Joshi also discusses the growing role of social media in the everyday lives of children and young adults.

To learn more about Joshi’s approaches to proactive mental health awareness and guidance for students, parents, and educators, check out the episode, which is well worth a listen in its entirety.

Photo by Rob Bye

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