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The (Not So) Secret to Student Success: A Healthy Mind

Sarah Reyes
Content Manager – Graduation Coach Campaign – Philadelphia

in collaboration with
Dana Careless, LPC
Manager for Health Promotion – DBHIDS

Academic pressure.  Report cards.  Peer pressure.  Detention.  Test results.

When we think of ways to improve a student’s performance in school, improving his or her mental health isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind, but it may be one of the most important factors in student success.

Approximately 1,100 undergraduates commit suicide each year, and one in six of every college student has been treated for or diagnosed with anxiety within the past 12 months. We set the expectation level of success very high for our students, so it is our job to make sure that we support our students academically and emotionally to help them reach their full potential.

There are many ways, both big and small, that adults can help positively impact a student’s mental health. First and foremost, if you believe your student is dealing with anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness, set up an appointment to get them screened.  Getting professional help is the first and best step to support your student.  There are a number of ways to get screened in Philadelphia – from emergency screenings at Crisis Response Centers to community screenings, available in person and online.

Next, focus on maintaining open communication with your student. At Graduation Coach Campaign in Philadelphia, the focus is on “Key Conversations.” These conversations are pre-planned, important check-ins between you and your student. You should plan to have these check-ins whenever your student is going through an important transitional stage in their life, such as preparing for high school or college. You can also plan to have these conversations when you think something may be awry in your student’s life: poor sleep or eating habits, avoiding school, dropping grades, fighting, or isolating themselves can all be signs that your student may need your help.

Also, make sure your student knows how much you care. Students, like all people, need love, support, and praise, but did you know that the way you praise your student can have a positive or negative impact on their mental health? There are two types of praise: praise for being and praise for doing. When we praise our students for being we are praising them for something that is inherent and unchanging within them: “I love you because you are you!” is an example of praise for being; you are telling them that you will love them no matter what.

Praise for doing is when we praise our students for a certain action or decision they made, such as saying, “I’m proud of you because you worked so hard on this.” It is important to never cross these two types of praise. If you were to praise your student by saying “I love you because you are so smart”, this may put pressure on your student to continue to be “smart.” If he or she fails a test, suddenly, are they no longer smart? Suddenly, will you stop loving them?  Praising your student for things they can control, such as studying hard or taking on challenges rather than being smart puts the power in your student’s hands to continue to make you proud rather than worry they will somehow let you down one day. Want to learn more about praise? You can watch a video by the Graduation Coach Campaign video by clicking here.

These are just a few of the ways that you can help your student be the happiest, healthiest person possible.  For more ways to support your student through school, go to phillygradcoach.org.

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