How to talk to kids about Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it provides an incredible opportunity to start a conversation with students about mental health. Learn more about effective ways you can use classroom discussions to educate, fight stigma, and provide support around mental health, while approaching the topic with care and sensitivity.

Getting started: creating a safe and supportive environment

It’s more important than ever to discuss mental health with students. According to Mental Health America, in 2023, one in ten youth will experience depression that impacts their daily life. When it comes to discussing mental health in the classroom, it is important to create a safe space where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.

One way to start doing this is by setting rules for respectful communication in the classroom. Luckily, there are social-emotional learning resources that can guide you in doing so! Our Understanding Others Worksheet for PreK to Kindergarten can help young children recognize others’ emotions. Plus, our cut-out Communication Cards for PreK to 5th grade help students understand the different communication styles they can use to connect to their peers.

Breaking down the stigma

In general, Gen Z and Gen Alpha might be more open to talking about mental health than older generations are, but the stigma still exists. Young people may fear being judged, stereotyped, or seen as a burden if they share their concerns with friends and family.

The first step to addressing the stigma is acknowledging it. Normalize the conversation around mental health by discussing how common mental health concerns are and by emphasizing that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. By having a class discussion about the different ways stigma presents itself in their lives, students will be more comfortable talking about mental health in the future.

Promoting self-reflection

Mental Health Awareness Month can be a great time to advise students to rest, recharge, and look within at their own emotions. Kids can practice this period of introspection with several key resources. First, our ‘Respond to a Topic’ Worksheet for May asks students to write about what makes them stressed versus calm, as well as about who they turn to for emotional support. 

Similarly, our Rose and Thorn Reflection Worksheet encourages students to think about joys and struggles in their lives and identify lessons and growth opportunities. You can also invite your students to participate in a Self Care Challenge for the month, or encourage them to write a Letter of Appreciation to themselves! 

Additionally, it is vital for young people to learn to recognize and manage their own emotions. 2nd and 3rd graders can learn this skill by illustrating an Emotion Wheel to help them reflect on their own feelings. Plus, these ‘Calm Down’ Cards for PreK-5th grade give kids ideas for how to ground themselves during periods of heightened emotions, and this Mindfulness Worksheet helps them use their 5 senses to re-center themselves in the present moment.

Discussing how to support others

In addition to awareness and introspection, one major purpose of this month is to encourage supporting those around us. In a fishbowl discussion or socratic seminar, pose this question to your students: How can we support the mental health of our community? Potential actions include reaching out to those that may be struggling or taking a proactive approach to creating a sense of community support at school. To help facilitate this important conversation, you can utilize our Cheering Friends Up worksheet for 2nd and 3rd grade or this Write a Letter of Appreciation worksheet for middle school.

Our ‘You Are Not Alone’ worksheet for 2nd to 5th grade guides kids in a class project: researching organizations in their community that support those who feel isolated. It also gives them space to brainstorm ways to help these organizations, such as through volunteering, writing letters, or advocating.

Looking for more resources to help you start the conversation about Mental Health Awareness Month? Check out the 450+ social-emotional learning resources in the Learning Library. 

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