As we begin the year it is important for me to address a topic that has been working its way to the forefront for many years now. It really jumped ahead to a current topic in the year 2020 when many schools and important spaces abruptly shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to have conversations about student mental health. You may have seen more articles or discussions about this topic, which should be discussed and changed for the better for our younger generations.  

In education we have a saying “Students must Maslow before they Bloom”, that means students must have their basic needs met (Maslow Hierarchy of Needs) before they are able to begin challenging academic tasks (Bloom’s Taxonomy a is hierarchy of critical thinking skills). I want to discuss ways that we can support our students to help with their mental health.  

These first three items are basic needs all humans need to grow and thrive but that we can do some work on improving. Students need food and shelter. When students have to worry about where they will get their next meal from or where they will sleep that night, they instantly are in a state of “fight or flight” which makes it impossible for them to learn and participate in new ideas to the best of their ability. Some ways parents and educators can do this is to make sure our personal children have access to food and shelter. There are many places that provide resources to give children meals, and safe places to sleep. If you currently have access to food and shelter, advocate for those who do not. Many states and school districts offer free meals to all students, this allows the students to know they will receive at least two of their meals.  

Safety is the next of the basic needs that are essential before students can begin more critical thinking. When I say safety I am thinking of physical safety, away from anything that may physically hurt them, but also psychological safety. Does your student feel supported without bullying at home, school or in their community? Students who are fearful when in school for their safety will not do their best learning.  

Included with safety are health needs. Students should be taken care of health-wise. With access to health care, regular doctor and dental visits along with mental health care. Students should have access to clean drinking water and healthy foods that allow them to be nourished and grow to the best of their potential.  

Belonging, love and esteem are all basic needs children must have before they can feel safe and comfortable to grow. These three items are typically something that are instilled in the home the child grows up in, but also characteristics that can be supported in the classroom. Students who feel loved and that they feel comfortable to try and learn and make mistakes. When we feel that acceptance, we are comfortable to explore in our learning and discovering with others.   

While I do think we need to focus on our students' mental health now more than ever. It needs to be triaged to really see the level of needs and where we can begin. Can we address mental health if our students do not feel safe in their schools? Can we address the mental health status of our students who are homeless? Can we address the mental health status of our students if they are hungry and not receiving health care? It’s time for us to make sure we are speaking up for the many needs that help build strong mental health and advocate for our students. 

About Jessi:     

Jessica Stallings MA Ed. is a veteran teacher and tech writer. She is a National Board Certified Educator who values teaching the whole child and enjoys working with learners of all ages. Her favorite thing as an educator is to watch how technology motivates all different types of learners of varying ability levels. She hopes to empower learners and families to use technology to help connect them to and learn more about the beautiful world we live in. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she loves to spend time on the North Carolina Coast with her family and dog, Fletcher.   

  • The points that Dr. Stallings makes in this article are quite relevant to me.  Students should indeed feel safe and secure.  Mental health counseling should be available for students when they have issues that be helped with such services.

  • Somehow the benefits of the Internet have also resulted in serious bullying which is not good for mental health.  Many people seem to think you can say whatever you want to people when you're online...

  • Now more than ever it's really important to put more focus on mental health.

  • Great article. Couldn't agree more.

  • Great article.  I'm happy that mental health is finally being addressed in children. So important, especially with the after effects of the pandemic, the never-ending gun violence and school shootings and what seems to be an increase in bullying, both in person and on-line.