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Widespread change starts with the individual. Someone who believes in a cause and is willing to advocate on behalf of it. Doing so isn't always easy. It takes time, energy and perseverance. But when enough of us decide to fight for change, we make that change a reality.

Our community advocacy pillars represent five areas of modern society that are in need of mental health reform — our schools, homes, work environments, places of worship and government institutions. Each pillar offers high-level advocacy recommendations for those willing to get involved on a community level. 

When it comes to our schools, mental health advocacy is all about celebrating different learning styles, encouraging emotional openness and urging those in charge to create accommodation and crisis-management plans.

Looking to be a mental health champion at your school? Let's dive deeper:


1) Make Classroom Accommodations

For most students, modern classroom environments and teaching styles are manageable. They may not love doing homework or giving presentations, but they are able to learn and succeed within current educational systems. Some students however, have a tougher time. Certain assignments or teaching styles might be distressing. Seating arrangements can be triggering or distracting. Test taking might be overwhelming. This doesn’t make these students lazy, unintelligent or combative. It just means they need a different approach.

Classroom accomodations can span everything from alternative homework assignments, extra breaks, and changes to seating arrangements, to unlimited test taking time or anxiety reduction plans for panic attacks and other episodes. They are meant to lower stress and make the learning environment more comfortable and productive so kids of all conditions can succeed. If teachers notice a child having a tough time, they should speak privately with them and then reach out to parents and higher-ups to discuss classroom changes. If you’re a student looking to reach out, know that you aren’t weird or inferior for doing so. There’s nothing wrong with needing help.If bullying arises after accommodations are implemented, teachers should be adamant about stopping the harassment and using the moment as an opportunity to discuss the importance of acceptance and support. Lastly, everyone involved (i.e. parents, teachers, administrators, students) should be well-versed in the legal rights they have when it comes to requesting, modifying and implementing accommodations.

2) Welcome Partnerships & Policy Changes

For school systems to best support the needs of their students, they must be willing to look beyond their immediate walls and ask for outside support. The quality and availability of mental health resources are just now starting to improve. As they strengthen, getting resources into schools and in the hands of parents will be a major priority. Early detection efforts can and will save lives.

A key component of this, is having schools work directly with nonprofits, community leaders, action groups and government organizations to implement necessary services and update their policies. Local doctors can help train school staff in recognizing and addressing symptoms and host regular check-ins to make sure all knowledge is up to date. Nonprofits can provide classroom learning materials that teach and promote mental wellness. Action groups can advise school systems on the updates they should make to their policies, like improving anti-bullying rules, instituting mental health accomodation plans and improving access to screenings or on-site support. And finally, school leaders can apply for federal grants that will allow them to prioritize mental health initiatives, like awareness events or mentorship programs.

3) Update Your Curriculum

The things we learn in childhood lay the foundation for who we become. The books we read, assignments we complete and vocabulary we are taught have a huge impact on our developing minds. That’s why it’s so important to introduce mental wellness early on. If we teach children how to recognize, vocalize and address the thoughts and feelings taking place in their head, they’ll be better equipped to handle mental health issues when they arise.

Social Emotional Learning, commonly called SEL, is a teaching process that helps children acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to understand their emotions, manage them, sympathize with others and maintain healthy relationships. SEL isn’t a single program or lesson plan though. There are a wide variety of ways to implement it, which means that school systems need to work with staff, students and families to get SEL into the curriculum in ways that will be successful. In addition to Social Emotional Learning, reading assignments, movies, presentations and group projects should introduce the topic of mental health and include characters battling mental distress. Representation goes a long way.

4) Offer Safe Spaces & Services

Confiding in others as an adult is hard enough. Now imagine having to do so as a kid, when peer pressure is high and mental illness is an unfamiliar concept. To combat mental health difficulties early on, students need clear and supportive confidants — people in the school environment that will listen, comfort and offer tangible advice.

School psychologists, guidance counselors, social workers and nurses should all be on-site and sufficiently trained to meet with, listen to, and help students that are seeking support. They should not only act as resources for those who reach out, but be proactive leaders who pay attention to warning signs and intervene when situations require it. Procedures for confiding in staff should be communicated to kids of all ages. Where do I go if I’m having a tough time? Who should I talk to? What can they do? Students should be reassured that if they do seek help, it will remain private. Finally, beyond designated mental health positions, schools should work to get all staff up to speed on warning signs, ways to discuss mental illness with children, and crisis plans for potential mental health emergencies.

5) Work With Families

The most supportive environments are collaborative ones. Teachers have unique insight into a student’s daily schedule, school life, and academic successes and struggles. Parents, on the other hand, know who their children are at home, with friends and family, and doing the things they love. Both parties play important roles during a student’s formative years, and should work together when it comes to addressing and managing mental health concerns.

Teachers, school support teams (i.e guidance counselors, therapists, nurses, etc) and parents should be in regular conversation regarding a student’s mental health condition, treatment, triggers, symptoms and classroom accommodations. In many cases, parents and teachers should work directly to identify issues and formulate plans for minimizing difficulties. They should use one another as resources for managing a student’s condition and shedding on light on progress or regression in both settings. Parents can help students practice at-home learning techniques, while teachers can help them better cope with triggers in a more active environment. In certain cases, it may also be helpful for teachers to communicate with a student’s doctor or therapist.

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We’re on a mission to change how the world perceives mental health.