Social and Emotional Learning

Mental Health Awareness Month Activities for Schools

6 Min Read
Mental Health Awareness Month Hero

Despite advances in medicine and psychology, many people can't recognize common mental-health problems. And because of misinformation or stigma, an overwhelming number of people struggle to get help.

The problem affects our schools, too. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six youth aged 6–17 experiences a mental health disorder each year. There are many factors influencing this trend, and no single solution.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. It's a great opportunity for teachers to take stock of their students'—and their own—health and well-being. Since 1949, the initiative has helped bring attention to the prevention and treatment of mental health challenges.

We hope the following Mental Health Awareness Month activities for school can inspire hope and positive action.

Mental Health Awareness Month Stat

Mental Health Awareness Month Activities

How can educators across the nation fit Mental Health Month lessons into their curriculum? Try these social and emotional learning activities in your classroom. Read on for more ways to get young people thinking about their well-being throughout the month and all year long.

Note: As you plan activities, think about the racial, ethnic, or religious communities your students belong to, and stigma associated with mental health within those communities. If you need help, ask a school counselor, social worker, ESL teacher, behavior support staff, or community liaison.

Take Care of You!

This prevention-oriented activity can be used to help students identify their personal set of coping tools. Coping skills only work if they actually help the person using them, and since everyone is different, there are many different ways to get through something difficult. Use this "Take Care of You!" activity sheet to introduce students to some commonly used coping skills and invite them to share additional strategies they find helpful. The worksheet can be used by itself, or pair it with a craft activity such as drawing a picture of ways they can take care of their mental health when (and hopefully before) problems arise. Older students may enjoy collaging with cutouts from magazines or designing a digital representation of how they care for their mental health.

Books About Big Feelings

Select a book or video to share with students. Here you'll find a list of children's books that address emotional, behavioral and learning challenges.

Choose topics that are appropriate for your students and take care to set expectations around respectful sharing. Invite your school counselor or social worker to the discussion. You may be surprised by how much students will share, especially younger ones, so make sure they know not to disclose names and only to discuss information they are okay with everyone knowing. Always allow students to “pass” or refrain from offering personal information. This type of discussion is an excellent way to build relationships with your students, especially if followed up with one-on-one time or a "lunch bunch" with a small group of students.

Start a discussion about the book:

  • What new information did you learn?
  • What information did you already know?
  • What surprised you?
  • What in the book can you relate to? Why?
  • Imagine you had the chance to talk with characters or people in the book or video. What would you say to them?

Vote with Your Feet

This activity provides a built-in movement break and opportunities for reflection and perspective-taking. Post “FACT” and “MYTH” signs on opposite sides of the room. Next, read a statement about mental health from the chart below and have students “vote” on whether it’s a fact or myth by moving to the corresponding sign. Encourage them to use the middle of the room if they’re not sure. Ask them to explain why they voted the way they did. Reveal the correct answer once everyone has “voted” and use the discussion points to guide further reflection.

For virtual adaptation, students can vote via chat window with reaction icons (thumbs up), or use a free online poll.

Mental Health Awareness Month Chart 2

Share Family Resources

Mental Health America’s website is a great resource to share with caregivers, and includes information about warning signs, mental health screenings for youth and adults, and tips for what to do with concerns about a youth’s mental health. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is another wealth of helpful information and caregiver resources, with tips for what to do if your child is in crisis, how to advocate for their mental health needs, and where to find professional help locally. NAMI also offers Nami Basics, a free six-week course for parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents living with mental illness.

As always, talk with your school counselor, social worker, or nurse for advice when compiling resources to share with parents and caregivers. Include information about services available through the school system and how to access them.

For older students, make sharing information about mental health a project. Challenge them to compile helpful information for parents and caregivers into a print or digital brochure, PowerPoint presentation, podcast, or through another medium. In addition to the resources highlighted above, they may find stats specific to your state in Mental Health America (MHA)’s Youth Data 2022 database and lots more in MHA’s 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.

Practical Ideas for Educator Self-Care

Between all the competing priorities at work and at home, your time and energy are already stretched thin and self-care often ends up being last on the list. Check out our blog on self-care tips for teachers. And here are more practical ideas that don’t take up a lot of extra time or money:

  • Take action for a healthier you with these 5 research-backed ways to feel happy.
  • Tune in to a favorite podcast. Might we suggest HMH's Teachers in America and Shaping the Future?
  • Look for 5-ingredient crockpot meals or easy sheet-pan recipes to make weekday meal planning easier.
  • Check the lighting in the classroom since traditional school lighting can be harsh and stressful on the eyes and mind.
  • Listen to music that you find soothing.
  • Relax with help of a meditation app.
  • Spend time with your pets (or your friend's/family’s pets).
  • Get outside: take a walk around the block, find comfy outdoor seating, go for a hike, or just open a window to get some fresh air.
  • Drink Water! Everything works better, mentally and physically, when you’re properly hydrated.
  • Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a mental health condition.

Ultimately, mental health awareness is not about a day, a week, or even a month. It is about integrating compassionate practices into day-to-day routines, and encouraging others to do the same. If you see someone struggling, let them know you’re concerned and point out observable facts without judgement. Don’t try to “fix” the problem. Have resources and solutions in mind but ask permission and listen for what the person wants. Above all, try to convey that there is hope! Mental health awareness in the classroom starts with you. Just reading this blog post is a step toward increasing your own awareness, and anything that improves your own understanding will ultimately benefit not only your students, but everyone in your life.

More Mental Health Awareness Ideas

Do you have simple, inexpensive ways to practice self-care as a teacher? Or maybe you have effective mental health awareness activities for students that you can share? We'd love to hear your ideas. Connect with us on Twitter (@HMHCo) or Facebook or email us at shaped@hmhco.com.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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