The extent of the problem
Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are a major concern. They are more common than we would think, as epidemiological studies show that, for example, up to 13% of adolescents aged from 12 to 17 in the US suffer from depression, 9.4% of children in the age group from 3 to 17 have ADHD (Monaco, 2021), and 6.5% of children and adolescents suffer from anxiety disorders (Creswell et al., 2020). Around 50% of mental health conditions start before the age of 14 and around 75% of them start before the age of 18 (Aguirre Velasco et al., 2020). The prevalence of most common mental health disorders in youth has been on the rise during past decades (Monaco, 2021).
Early recognition of mental health disorder symptoms in children and adolescents is crucial, as they adversely impact their academic, professional, and social activities and quality of life (Fusar-Poli, 2019) and have a long-term negative impact into their adulthood (Kowadenko & Culjak, 2018).
How can teachers help
However, it is estimated that around 75% of adolescents with mental health issues are not receiving treatment (Children Commissioners, 2016). This is often because children and adolescents are reluctant to seek help (Divin et al., 2018), but it is also because they cannot recognize their problems on their own. Teachers and other educators can recognize mental health symptoms in children and adolescents and encourage them to seek help. For them to be successful at this, there is a need to increase their mental health literacy.
Studies show that teachers can be solid at recognizing externalizing problems but have issues in detecting internalizing problems. They often view their students as healthy and underestimate their problems (Undheim et al., 2016). Some studies show that teachers, after a small amount of training, can become fairly accurate in detecting psychological difficulties in children, even in the case of internalizing symptoms (van den Broek et al., 2021).