Tips for Educators - Kayla and Bernice BLOG1Kayla Caceres (left), Marriage and Family Therapist Intern in Intensive Services; Bernice Contreras (right), Marriage and Family Therapist Intern in Intensive Services; and Enrique Martinez (not pictured), Associate Clinical Social Worker in Long Beach Outpatient presented at YMCA of Greater Long Beach.

Recently, a group of our awesome staff held a training at YMCA of Greater Long Beach for the teachers in the afterschool Winners Reaching Amazing Potential (WRAP) program. The teachers within this program had asked for training on how to assist their students who are struggling with mental health challenges.

This is not an uncommon request. NPR reports that of the more than 50 million public school students in the U.S. as many as 1 in 5 show signs of a mental health disorder. But mental health conditions or challenges can be difficult to identify in children and teens as they may be present as behavioral issues. It’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of those affected students will go undiagnosed and without treatment. This impacts everyone – from the classroom to the community as a whole.

But with mental health treatment, there is recovery and hope.

We understand that you may be seeing this in your classrooms too so we pulled tips from their presentation and published them here so that you can also know:

  • What to Look for – Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions
  • How Symptoms May Impact Your Students
  • How to Respond to Students and Approach Caregivers
  • How to Refer Students for Help

What to Look for – Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Conditions

Behavior Changes: Insomnia or hypersomnia, persistent nightmares, temper tantrums, inappropriate social interactions or play with toys, difficulties with transitions or changes in routine, hyperactivity or restlessness, lack of energy, flat affect (severe reduction in emotional expressiveness), difficulties waiting for turn, defiant behaviors and aggression.

Difficulties Concentrating*: Difficulties focusing, difficulties sitting still, excessive daydreaming, forgetful, difficulties with organization

Mood Changes: Sadness, irritability, mood swings, anhedonia

Intense Feelings: Overwhelming fears, excessive worrying or crying, hypervigilance

Somatic Symptoms: Headaches, stomach aches, nausea, chest pain, muscle tension, fatigue, tics, tremors, wetting or soiling self

Significant Changes in Appearance: Unexplained changes in weight or loss of appetite, lack of attention to Activities of Daily Living (ADLs – eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, walking and continence)

Physical Harm: Head-banging, nail biting, excessive picking at scabs, pulling hair, unusual scars or bruises, unusual choice of clothing given the weather, comments or writing suggestive of desire to harm self or others, unusual responses when asked about marks on body, lack of awareness of safety issues

Risky Behaviors: Substance abuse (often an indicator of a greater, underlying issue), threatening to run away, stealing

Psychotic Symptoms: Auditory or visual hallucinations, paranoia, does not necessarily mean psychotic disorder (e.g. substance abuse, extreme anxiety, normative within some cultures)

*May be helpful to consider medical conditions first (e.g. difficulties seeing or hearing)

How Symptoms May Impact Your Students

  • Conflict with peers and bullying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulties with life-cycle transitions
  • Poor academic performance
  • Conflict with school staff and other adults
  • Attendance and truancy problems

How Do I Respond?

To students: Sometimes children tell us things we are afraid to hear, but it’s important to provide them with support and a listening ear.

  1. Empathize with your student
    Children struggling with mental health challenges need love and empathy. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) produced a great animated short that explains how empathy, instead of sympathy, builds the bridge to making a helpful, meaningful connection in these types of situations. You can watch it here.
  2. Validate their feelings
  3. Actively listen to them
  4. Find a way to connect to their experience
  5. Normalize their experience

To your supervisors:

  1. Follow district policy and procedures on reporting safety concerns
  2. Let them know when you’ve noticed behavioral issues or changes in students
  3. Use your supervisors as support when told heavy information
  4. Discuss referrals and possible resources

To the caregivers: Approaching a student’s caregiver about a mental health concern can be a difficult conversation to have. As always, consider your student’s safety first.

  1. Let them know your concerns by stating behavioral observations:
  • “I’ve noticed that Suzy has been spending more time by herself.”
  • “Suzy has been having outbursts in class.”
  • “I’ve noticed it has been difficult for Johnny to get along with other students.”
  • “Johnny told me today that he has been cutting.”
    • Provide caregiver with reason why student may be cutting (e.g. feeling overwhelmed, sad, depressed, anxious)
  1. Provide them with resources and referrals to help them with their child’s behavior
  2. Remember to empathize, normalize, validate, and listen to parents too!

How Do I Refer a Student?


  • Express your concerns to supervisors, the onsite school counselor, or principal


  • Fill out a referral form and have parent signed consent form
  • Fax referral and consent forms to The Guidance Center: 562-426-4661.
  • The Guidance Center will contact the family regarding services
  • If the caregivers agree to services and the child qualifies for services, our program secretary will schedule an intake appointment for the child with one of our therapists.

For more information on our referral process, please call 562-595-1159.

Tips for Educators