By Jodi Doster, Science and Art Teacher, Bristol Bay Borough School District
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, schools have adapted instruction to meet the challenge of continuing students’ education. As the pandemic continues, special attention needs to be paid to students’ mental health.
For some students, stress levels may be higher than normal, and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression may also become worse. The statistics are concerning: The Centers for Disease Control reports that in the period from March 2020 to October 2020 the proportion of mental-health related emergency room visits increased 24% for kids ages 5-11 and 31% for kids ages 12-17 compared to the previous year. While educators continue to do the essential work of teaching the world’s future leaders, there is a clear need for resources and support around mental health – and how to protect it.
The good news? There are resources available that are specifically designed to support mental wellness-focused teaching and learning. CVS Health and Discovery Education partnered to create Dose of Knowledge, an educational program empowering teachers to help students make good decisions for the health and well-being of themselves and their community. One of the Dose of Knowledge lessons provides digital resources, through which students are able to discover mental health’s connection to their overall health, come to understand the roles of prescription drugs and the dangers of illicit drugs, and learn key social-emotional coping strategies to support them as they navigate everyday life.
The best part? All the content is available at no-cost! Here’s how I use mental health and substance misuse educational resources in my classroom.
Helping Students Understand the Importance of Mental Wellness
Before diving into the resources, I think it’s helpful for students to understand the why behind mental health. The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being—and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Our health depends on wellness in all parts of our lives. While there is often a heavy focus on our physical and social health, we must all continue to pay careful attention to our mental health—especially during difficult times.
Our mental health not only affects how we think, feel, and act, but it also influences how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Students navigate a complex world of physical, social, and mental health influences every single day. Signs that mental health needs closer attention include frequent conflicts with friends and family, constant or ongoing irritability, feelings of intense anger or hopelessness, unusual changes in behavior or mood, changes in sleep or eating patterns, and memory, concentration, or thinking problems.
Some teenagers may think turning to drugs and alcohol will help them deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. However, illegally using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate is not a healthy coping mechanism. The combination of substance use with other underlying mental health problems can be extremely dangerous. The care of the brain is especially important for young people as human brains are not fully developed until around the age of 25, and sections of the brain develop at different rates. In short, mental health challenges negatively impact all areas of life, including learning.
Engaging Students in Mental Health Discussions
Initiating conversations with students about mental health can be difficult to navigate, even as a seasoned educator. There is no specific right time to start talking to students, but we do know the earlier the better. The thoughtfully curated Mental Health lesson from Dose of Knowledge provides tools I need to engage students in thoughtful discussion and learning that will positively impact their future health.
After the Mental Health lesson, students are effectively able to:
Understand that mental health is an important component of overall health
Create a tip sheet that summarizes proactive and reactive steps that can support their mental health now and, in the future
Understand how prescription medication for anxiety and depression works, as well as the risks associated with substance misuse
Explain steps that should and should not be taken when feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety begin to impact their daily lives
Identify support resources in their families, communities, and beyond
By talking openly, students become more familiar and comfortable with the words and terms that allude to this part of wellness and the support available to them. Plus, learning more about how to take care of their own health, students will be better able to safely navigate periods of uncertainty and stress throughout their lives.
Keep the Learning Going
As young people faced increased stress, anxiety, and isolation during these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we all play an active role helping students understand the dangers of substance misuse.
The Dose of Knowledge program content is suitable for integration wherever learning is taking place. Educators can access several other digital lesson bundles and dynamic activities aligned to national educational standards to help students explore other topics related to substance misuse, including dealing with the effects of peer pressure. Each digital resource features an educator guide, student activities, pharmacist videos, learning objectives, and a ready-made presentation for turnkey implementation.
Learn more about the Dose of Knowledge program and access all the resources to raise awareness about mental health and substance misuse prevention with your students at DoseOfKnowledge.com. In addition, Discovery Education users can find all the Dose of Knowledge content on the program channel in its award-winning K-12 learning platform.