Over the last fifteen years, mental health problems in high school students have been dramatically increasing. In 2019, the CDC released their Youth Risk-Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report and reported that more than one in three of the students surveyed had experienced "persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness" which is a 40% increase from 2009. One in five students had seriously considered suicide and about 16% have a suicide plan.
With instant access to social media, insecurities, bullying, anxiety, and loneliness are at an all-time high. We have the opportunity to bring awareness to these issues in the classroom and work with our students to implement coping methods. Here are twenty activities you can introduce to your classroom.
1. The Calm Box
@Wholeheartedschoolcounseling provides excellent resources for classroom mental health awareness. She not only provides the tools for coping methods but also advice on how to implement a calm corner.
Learn more: Wholehearted School Counseling (TPT)
2. Self-Care Coping Methods
A great mental health activity is teaching coping methods. Mallory Grimste shares excellent resources for teaching our teens self-care, self-compassion, and self-help.
Learn more: Mallory Grimste
3. Nature Walks
Nature has been linked to lower depression and anxiety levels. If possible, try to take your class on a nature walk once a week.
Learn more: Mental Health Foundation
4. Classroom Garden
5. Classroom Pet
Having a classroom pet could dramatically lower the cortisol levels in the classroom. Pets are proven to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as depression and loneliness and, have been known to assist during panic or anxiety attacks.
Learn more: Western Governors University
6. Tea Station
Another proven method to lower cortisol levels? Tea. Set up a tea station in your classroom and provide your students free access to it.
Learn more: Nature.com
7. Group Art Projects
Art is another excellent way to manage student mental health and giving them a chance to work together can be very beneficial. This project from Mental Fills Counseling Tools is a great opportunity to have the students give each other positive reinforcement.
Learn more: Mental Fills Counseling Tools (TPT)
8. Positivity Notes
Give your students the ability to lift up their classmates. Have them write positivity notes on Post-its then create a bulletin board with them!
Learn more: FD Roosevelt PS
9. Affirmation Station
@missnormansmiddles has an Affirmation Station in her classroom. Set up a mirror and tape inspirational quotes around the edges. This is the perfect daily encouragement for your school students.
Learn more: Miss Normans Middles
10. Kindness Gnome
@Teachmesomethingood had the idea to create a Kindness Gnome for Christmas. He delivers daily kindness missions for the students. This is an excellent way for them to practice kindness towards themselves and towards others.
Learn more: Teach Me Something Good
11. Bullet Journals
Bullet Journals are a great way to monitor your health behaviors by using mood, habit, and trigger trackers.
Learn more: About Social Anxiety
12. Gratitude Journals
13. Adult Coloring Books
Coloring books are an excellent creative outlet and stress reducer for a classroom. Keep a coloring book station and allow the students to access it in their free time.
14. Writing Prompts
I love to use writing prompts in the classroom. These are great exercises to process emotions and thoughts. You could either begin or end your class with a writing prompt. This is a fun way to check their daily mental health condition.
Learn more: Kids 'n Clicks
Introducing yoga in the classroom is a fun way to give your students a break from their work and a chance to breathe and relax. Not only is this a great physical activity for them, but it's also a mental release.
Learn more: Yoga With Adriene
16. Reading Hour
Another activity I implemented with my school students was a reading hour. Once a month I would set aside a class period specifically for reading. The students came to class prepared with snacks, blankets, and pillows. I hung twinkly lights and allowed them to build pillow forts, and they spent the hour reading or coloring.
There was no real educational value to these days, but it gave the students a space to decompress, and it helped them to know that I was their mental health advocate.
17. Art Therapy Exercises
Having a book written by an art therapist is an excellent resource to have in the classroom. You can make the books available for when the students have extra time in class. This is a great way to have the students practice their own stress management techniques.
18. Group Discussions
When we invite our students to have group discussions in the classroom, we are giving them a safe space to talk about their struggles and their mental health issues. We create a class community and let them know that it is okay to speak about their problems and fears.
Learn more: Safer Smarter Teens
19. Circle of Control
One coping method we can teach our students is the circle of control. When we acknowledge what we actually have control over, we can better manage our fears, anxieties, and worries.
Learn more: Book Widgets
20. Tennis Ball Toss
Mr.Todnem on Youtube shared an amazing lesson about resiliency. In this lesson, he addresses mental health awareness both of ourselves and of others. This is a very helpful lesson plan and it sparks a great mental health discussion.
Learn more: Mr. Todnem