Why Mental Health is Important for Students — McMillen Health (2023)

Human beings have a mind-body connection. This means our mental, physical, and social health affect each other. For students, mental health is important because it impacts how they learn and participate in school.

Mental health affects students':

  • ability to learn in school,

  • academic achievement,

  • ability to build positive relationships,

  • physical health, and

  • stress management.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics and two other child health institutions joined in declaring that child and adolescent mental health is a national emergency. This means understanding student mental health is more critical than ever.

This blog post will explore the important connection between school and student mental health. We will focus on the following factors:

  1. Student academic achievement

  2. Early detection

  3. Meeting student mental health needs

  4. Mental health awareness and education

  5. Prevention

What is Mental Health?

Mental health includes our emotional, social, and psychological well-being. It affects how we think and act and how we interact with others.

The benefits of good mental health in students include:

  • Productivity

    • Students will be more productive and motivated to pursue academic goals.

  • Coping ability

    • Students can recognize everyday stress and handle it in healthy ways.

  • Higher self-esteem

    • Students feel better about themselves and their abilities.

  • Positive contributions

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    • Students are engaged in learning and participate in the classroom.

  • Positive connections

    • Students make and keep friendships; collaborate with peers; and form relationships with teachers, coaches, and administrators.

  • Improved physical health

    • Students have healthy sleep, nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle habits.

  • Life satisfaction

    • Students are proud of their accomplishments and motivated to pursue interests.

Why is Mental Health Important for Students?

A student's mental health affects their academic performance. Students with good mental health are prepared to learn. They tend to have higher self-esteem and be motivated to achieve educational goals.

A student struggling with their mental health or diagnosed with a mental health disorder may have trouble paying attention, remembering, and problem-solving. They may also have trouble meeting classroom expectations.

When students are disruptive, uninterested, or defiant, school staff disciplines them. Exclusionary punishments like suspensions and expulsions have a negative impact on academic achievement. Students can’t learn and participate if they are excluded from school.

Mental health also affects a student's attendance and even graduation rates. Connecting students to mental health services helps them stay in school.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, "fifty percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and three-quarters begins by age 24."

For most people who develop a mental health disorder, symptoms start while they are still in school. The sooner a mental health concern is found and treated, the better. Left untreated, mental health disorders will get worse. They can last throughout a student's school years and into adulthood.

Parents, teachers, and school administration can change a student's life trajectory by recognizing when someone needs help and connecting them with support.

Some student populations have greater mental health needs than others.

These students may:

  • be at a higher risk for developing a mental health disorder, and/or

  • have less access to mental health services.

Schools can deliver mental health services or resources to students who need them most. This helps students stay in school and stay engaged in learning.

Student Populations with the Greatest Mental Health Needs

  • Students experiencing homelessness or food insecurity

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  • Students who identify as LGBTQ

  • English-language learners

  • Students with disabilities

  • Students of color

Non-white students, students with public insurance, and students from low-income households are less likely to access private or independent mental health services. These students must rely on their schools for mental health services. Compare this list to the list above. You can see that there is a crossover between students who need mental health services the most and students who have the fewest options for services.

It is important to remember that a student's environment affects their mental health. Supportive school environments help students thrive. When students need help with their mental health but don't receive support, their mental health gets worse.

One way that schools can help students is with mental health education. Quality mental health education for students includes:

  • How to support student mental health

  • How to recognize mental health symptoms and warning signs

  • How and where to get help

Life skills education programs are also a chance for educators to combat mental health myths and reduce mental health stigma.

How to Support Mental Health

The following are ways that students can care for their mental health:

  • Building a support network of trusted people

  • Taking care of physical health with good sleep, nutritious foods, and physical activity

  • Pursuing hobbies

  • Meditating

  • Journaling

Common Mental Health Myths

Mental health education can overcome common myths such as:

  • Children don't have mental health disorders.

  • Mental illness is a choice.

  • Medication doesn't help mental disorders.

All these myths are false. Misinformation about mental health is dangerous for students.

(Video) Mental Health Panel discussion supported by Call to Mind, MPR's mental health initiative

Getting Help with Mental Health

Your Own Mental Health

Students struggling with their mental health should talk to someone they trust. This could be a parent, teacher, or counselor. If the student feels unsafe or overwhelmed, they can contact a crisis hotline.

Guidance counselors at school are trained professionals to help with mental health. Here are ways you could start the conversation:

  • "I have a problem. Can we talk?"

  • "I'm having a tough time with __________."

Supporting Someone Else

If you see someone else struggling with their mental health, the first thing to remember is you are not a counselor. You can offer support, but you also want to connect them with a professional.

You can listen to them, share resources, and remind them that you care. Also, remember that not everyone wants help. Respect a person’s wishes if they do not want to talk about their situation.

Mental Health Resources

Untreated mental health disorders can have dangerous outcomes. These include self-harm, bullying, substance use, and suicide. Schools play a critical role in preventing these outcomes.

Through early detection, meeting mental health needs, education, and awareness, schools can help students have healthy, happy, and productive lives.

What is a Mental Health Disorder?

A mental health disorder, also known as a mental disorder or mental illness, is a diagnosable health condition. A mental health disorder changes how a person thinks, feels, or behaves, as well as causing distress and disruption in a person's life.

Mental health disorders can range from mild to severe. While there is no specific cause, mental health is affected by:

  • our biology (genes and brain chemistry),

  • our environment and experiences (home life, trauma, abuse), and

  • our lifestyle choices (nutrition, sleep, substance use).

Common Mental Health Disorders in Students

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in six children in the United States experience a mental health disorder. In college-aged students (young adults 18-25 years old), that number jumps up to one in three.

According to the CDC, the most diagnosed mental health disorders in students are:

  • ADHD

  • anxiety

    (Video) Dating someone with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis or any serious mental health condition

  • behavior problems

  • depression

Warning Signs of Mental Health Disorders in Students

If a student is struggling with their mental health, there will be warning signs. Sometimes these are signs that the student needs help caring for their mental health. The warning signs could also be symptoms of a diagnosable mental health disorder.

The following are signs and symptoms of a student struggling with their mental health:

  • Inattention

  • Hyperactivity

  • Impulsivity

  • Defiant behavior

  • Mood swings

  • Losing interest

  • Fear or panic

  • Worry

  • Changes in eating patterns

  • Changes in sleep

  • Physical symptoms like dizziness, chest pain, nausea, headaches, and rapid heart rate

When these signs and symptoms disrupt how we function at home, school, work, or in our relationships, it is time to get professional help.

If left untreated, mental health disorders can lead to more serious problems, including:

  • Dangerous behavior such as substance use or high-risk sexual behaviors

  • Substance use disorders

  • Disordered eating patterns and eating disorders

  • Self-harm

  • Suicide

Fortunately, schools can offer resources, referrals, and services to support student mental health.

Next Steps: Mental Health Education for Students

Mental health is important for students because it is part of overall well-being. Good mental health promotes a student’s health, happiness, learning, and academic achievement. Through mental health education, schools can combat mental health stigma and common myths. Students can learn about improving their mental health, signs of mental health disorders, and where to go when they need help.

McMillen Health's educators would love to work with you and your students to promote mental health awareness. Using high-tech media rooms, our educators can reach classrooms anywhere with an internet connection.

Mental Health Programs Offered at McMillen Health


1. Top 3 with Professor Alison McMillan - Impact of alcohol on our health and wellbeing
(Australian Department of Health and Aged Care)
2. How Food Affects Your Mood (GOOD NUTRITION IMPROVES YOUR MENTAL HEALTH!) - Rhett Dela Cruz
(Get Starstruck!)
3. Power of Fitness | Vincent Lam | TEDxRanneySchool
(TEDx Talks)
4. How virtual reality can improve your mental health | Matt Vogl | TEDxMileHigh
(TEDx Talks)
5. Feed Your Mental Health | Drew Ramsey | TEDxCharlottesville
(TEDx Talks)
6. Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? | Bailey Parnell | TEDxRyersonU
(TEDx Talks)


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