Children with mental illnesses can be successful in school if they receive the right support.
It can be difficult for any child to manage school demands, from tests and classwork to social interactions and extracurriculars. For children with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, getting through the school day can be overwhelming.
Children who suffer from anxiety or depression might refuse to attend school or claim to have a headache, or stomachache, explains Talia F. Fayson, M.Ed. School Services Case Manager, Children’s Health (sm). Or, at school, they might frequently visit the nurse’s office or counselors to complain of physical illnesses or panic attack symptoms.
Parents of children who have mental health issues may not be aware of the actions they can take to help their child in school. Fayson discusses different accommodations and ways to support mental health conditions.
What are the effects of anxiety and depression on school performance?
It can be difficult for students to concentrate when they suffer from anxiety or depression. It can be difficult for students to interact with their peers or teachers. Kids can also suddenly get into trouble or disrupt the class.
Parents may notice that their child has suddenly stopped participating in extracurricular activities or that they are missing or have incomplete assignments. Fayson says that their motivation may suddenly drop, and they might start to have behavioral problems in class.
What can parents do to support students with mental health issues in school?
Speak to the school counselor or social worker if your child suffers from anxiety or depression. These school personnel are a great resource for directing you to local mental health providers who can provide treatment or counseling to your child. School counselors can also assist parents in setting up 504 plans and other accommodations for children with anxiety or depression.
What is Plan 504?
A plan ensures that a child with a disability receives accommodations for success at school. Students with physical or mental conditions, such as anxiety or depression, can create a formalized Plan 504 with their school system. A 504 plan details specific accommodations at school that can help support their academic success.
All schools receiving federal funding must provide 504 accommodations to children who have demonstrated a need.
Fayson, who works with children with anxiety or depression, has found that 504 plans with extra time and quiet test space can help students navigate their school day more easily.
Students with anxiety or depression may be accommodated in the following ways:
- When the classroom environment becomes overwhelming, a designated area for calming down can be provided.
- A specific person (such as a school counselor) who is available to check in as needed
- Include breaks in the schedule and on-demand throughout the day
- Students should be seated in a comfortable area
- A permanent hall pass can be used to visit the school counselor, social worker, or other administrators as required.
- Create a plan for the student to make up their work if they are absent
- To avoid crowds and give students extra time to transition, allow them to leave the class five minutes early.
- Students can “chunk” them into smaller pieces to make large assignments more manageable.
- Allocate extra time for tests, quizzes, and other assignments, such as homework.
- Recording lectures for note-taking and recording
- The school counselor or social worker may require other accommodations after evaluating the individual needs of the student
Why should I tell my child’s school that they have a mental illness?
Parents may be reluctant to tell teachers or school administrators about their child’s anxiety or depression. It could be due to a fear of being “labeled” as having a mental disorder or the stigma attached to mental health.
Fayson says she hears it often but encourages families to avoid this thought. She says, “I always encourage parents to share whatever they feel comfortable doing.” Parents should consider the benefits of sharing information with the school to work together and help their child successfully navigate school-day stresses.
What can I do for my child who has anxiety or depression to help him succeed in school?
Parents should document all emails and conversations with teachers to help integrate the 504 plan. You may need to refer back to these records if necessary, especially if the school is not meeting your child’s needs in terms of mental health.
Fayson suggests that if you have concerns about a specific issue, it is best to follow the “chain of commands” and first speak with your child’s counselor and teacher before complaining directly to the principal.
Parents should also take the time to review their child’s 504 plan with school staff and counselors every year. Engaging in dialogue is important to say, ‘Yes, these things worked. Let’s keep them.’ Fayson explains that it’s important to have a dialog so you can say, ‘Yes, these things worked. Let’s continue them.