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C4 Module 4.2

Youth mental health difficulties

Before You Begin

What mental health difficulties have you seen in a school environment?

Given the rapid biological, psychological and social changes that occur during the teenage years, adolescence represents a period of elevated risk for mental health difficulties. Jot down some of the difficulties that you’ve seen in a school environment.

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Some students in your school will experience mental health difficulties – but what exactly are they?

What are mental health difficulties?

Mental health difficulties refer to a broad range of cognitive, emotional and behavioural issues that may cause concern or distress. In other words, mental health difficulties affect how a person thinks, feels and behaves. This can include the issues young people experience in relation to normal life stressors. 

When does a mental health difficulty become a disorder?

The point at which a mental health difficulty becomes a mental health disorder can be difficult to distinguish, particularly as mental health symptoms – like physical health symptoms – generally occur on a continuum from mild to severe. The distinction can be particularly difficult with adolescents. Everyone experiences ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ in their mood and outlook and with adolescents, mood swings – from feeling ‘blue’ to over-the-top excitement to feeling anxious or irritable – are relatively common.

What causes mental health disorders?

There is usually no single cause for a young person to experience a mental health disorder; generally there are multiple factors at play. Sometimes it’s possible to identify a specific life event that triggers a period of poor mental health, but that is not always the case; sometimes there is no obvious cause or reason. It’s also important to remember that some young people tend to be more deeply affected by events or experiences than others. 

Mental health difficulties in the school environment

It is likely that young people experiencing mental health difficulties will find the school environment particularly demanding and may struggle to actively engage with school work, concentrate on tasks, tolerate uncertainty or demands, engage with social networks and cope with the various day-to-day demands of study.

School staff members are well-placed to notice changes and are often confronted by, and already dealing with, behaviours associated with mental health difficulties.

What behaviours and signs could indicate that a student is experiencing a mental health difficulty?

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