Health Information

How to Help Students in Distress

The majority of mental illnesses begin in adolescence – while young people are still in school – making schools an optimal setting for early identification and intervention. Addressing mental illnesses early can help to reduce the impact of symptoms, yet as many as 5 in 6 young people will not receive the help they need¹.

Educators are uniquely positioned to be the “eyes, ears, and heart”² by noticing when a young person may be struggling and being a caring adult in their lives. You do not need to be a mental health professional to know when a person is in distress, demonstrate concern for their well-being, and help them to get help. Here are some tips:

  • Get to know your students – build relationships with them and their caregivers.
  • Keep an eye out for any changes in a young person’s mood, behaviour, presentation, or performance. Notice when something seems unusual about them. Mental health problems can show up in many ways:
    • How they present themselves
    • Their behaviour, emotions, or energy levels
    • Their performance in school activities, absences
  • Demonstrate concern for their well-being. Connect with them individually and ask if they would like to talk to a professional.
  • Avoid judgment. We want youth to have positive experiences talking to adults so that they will keep doing it and get the help they need.
  • Keep relevant staff informed. Discretion can be important but your school’s well-being team may have more information. The teams could include principals/administrators, special education teams (psychology staff, resource teachers), student services, and others – know who’s on your team!
  • Don’t wait. If you notice something, speak up. You may have one piece of information that, when combined with pieces from other staff, students, or caregivers, could indicate help is needed immediately.
  • Get informed. Participate in training provided by the school board, utilize the resources for staff, know the pathway for getting help in your school.
  • Know the resources for mental health support in your school. You have access to mental health professionals, possibly via your school administrators, who can assess the student, refer them to further supports, and give ideas for classroom modifications. Visit Minds Connected for more mental health resources in our community.
  • Take care of your own mental health.

If you are an educator, log in or register for an online account to access specific resources for you.

For more information or if you have questions, contact Lambton Public Health.

  1. School Mental Health ASSIST:
  2. MHASEF Research Team. (2015) The Mental Health of Children and Youth in Ontario: A Baseline Scorecard. Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. As quoted in Children’s Mental Health Ontario: