Teacher Companion Guide: Recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health disorders and reducing stigma

Teacher Companion Guide: Recognizing signs and symptoms of mental health disorders and reducing stigma


Companion Guide for Teachers

A downloadable version of this guide, the student writing prompt, rubrics and student handout are attached at the bottom of the article

Lesson Title: Recognizing the signs of mental illness and reducing mental health stigma 

Brief Summary: In this 50-minute lesson, students will learn about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and loss. The stigma associated with mental illness will be addressed including important information about identifying facts from myths. Students will learn to positively reframe negative labels associated with mental health.  

PLEASE NOTE: It is typical for adolescents to have mood swings and strong emotional responses on occasion. However, if changes in mood or behaviors are impairing a student’s ability to function academically or socially, please contact the school counselor or district Mental Health Professional. 

Response Guidelines

If a student asks a question or shares information that you don’t have the answers to or know how to respond to, take the following steps: 
1. Stay calm. 
2. Validate what the student said and how brave they were to share. 
3. Let them know that you want to help in any way possible while protecting their privacy. 
4. If the response indicates an emergency, get help immediately. 
5. If the response does not indicate an emergency, get help as soon as class is over. 
Lesson Objectives 
1. Students will identify signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses. 
2. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the harmful effects of stereotypes and the stigma associated with mental illness.  
3. Students will identify steps they can take to minimize the stigma associated with mental illness. 
Shared vocabulary: 
1. Mental health - Mental health is the term we use to describe how our emotions and thoughts affect the way we handle stress, relate to other people, and make the decisions we do.  
2. Mental illness - People with a mental illness may have thoughts, feelings, and actions that are different than other people of the same age. When connected to a mental illness, feelings last much longer and are more intense than other people’s typical feelings about stress.  
3. Stigma - Stigmas are negative stereotypes. They are often communicated by the way we treat or talk about people with a mental illness.  
Key Takeaways: 
1. We all experience negative feelings sometimes. When they last for weeks, when you have several symptoms of a mental illness, or when your feelings seem intense, it’s time to talk to a trusted adult.  
2. You can help friends and family members with a mental illness.  
3. You can help to reduce the stigma of mental illness.  
Upon completion of viewing online content: 

Teachers: Please have students complete the writing prompt. As we connect today’s lesson to our curriculum, please use the appropriate grade-level rubric to assess your students.  

Continue the Conversation: 
1. The connectivity between thinking-feeling-doing: How can we connect what we think about the content we just reviewed to how we are feeling? What actions can you take to apply this information in a meaningful way? 
2. Self, Others, World: How can you use the information you learned in this lesson to help yourself? To help your friends and family? To help other people with mental illnesses? 
3. Mental health is about awareness: You can’t change something if you’re not aware it’s happening. If an unhealthy pattern is identified, notice the moment you derail because this is where a new healthier behavior goes.  This is called “Pattern Interruption.” Then, you need to practice the new choice (Appropriate Competing Behavior) until it becomes a new habit.  
a. What awareness did today’s content bring about in you? Identify some actions or behaviors you may be able to replace with healthier options.  
Additional activities/resources/suggested reading: 
  1. 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma
  2. 5 Steps to Reduce Stigma About Mental Illness

Recognizing the signs of mental illness and reducing mental health stigma - Writing Prompt



Question: What signs and symptoms of mental illness should students be aware of and what should you do if you or a friend experience these symptoms? 


Grading rubrics for all grades are attached at the bottom.







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