In support of the Bell Let’s Talk day today, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts and concerns in regards to what the English language education community is doing, or should be doing, to support both the teachers and their learners dealing with mental health issues.
A while back, I had the chance to discuss this issue with an instructor who had an international student struggling with a then undiagnosed struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. This manifested itself in various ways and was becoming a very disruptive issue in the the classroom and the school. The problem was compounded in the fact that the teacher was unprepared to recognize the underlying issues and deal with those in the school context. Also, administration was unsure about how to approach things while maintaining the safety of everyone involved. Now, not all mental health issues will become so apparent or so dangerous, but the reality is that it is likely that someone in your classroom, or at least a recent student, is suffering with some for of mental health problem and may not even know it.
This issue becomes even more thorny when you start to deal with cultural stigmas, possibly a lack of knowledge regarding mental health issues, and the fear of being alone in a land that is not their own. We haven’t even addressed the issue of health insurance, language barriers, and visas.
So how do we deal with this when language teachers are likely not prepared to recognize or support students with mental health issues. In my TESL certificate program, we touched on learning disabilities, but I don’t recall even mentioning mental health issues at all. We did discuss it in my MA TESOL program, but I don’t think that it can be done justice in that type of environment. I think that each school should call in a mental health professional to do a PD session on what to do when you think that a student may have mental health issues, and help teachers know what to do to support students with mental health issues in the classroom. I know that I am quite unprepared and I would love to have some support in this area.
I attempted to find good solid research in this area, but I failed to find anything substantive. I did find a few articles that skirted the issue in conjunction with learning disabilities, but nothing really solid. What I did find was an organization in Canada that supports multicultural individuals suffering with mental health issues and for those who support them. I don’t know much about them, but I may try to contact them to get some more information about how we can take that knowledge directly into the classroom.
I would love to hear from you, especially if you have experience in this area and could help others grow in their understanding in this area.
- 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime
- (in my current classroom, that means I potentially have about 3 or 4 students suffering with some form of mental illness)
- 1 in 13 adults will experience a major depression in their lives
- (in my current classroom, that means at least 1 will potentially have to deal with this)
Stats courtesy of the Canadian Mental Health Association