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Identifying Student Psychological Problems with Background Information

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

When a student is in crisis, they need to know they have someone looking out for their well-being. This lesson will describe how to gain deeper background knowledge that will assist with helping students with psychological problems.

Understanding Psychological Problems

Your elaborately planned lesson is being perfectly executed for an attentive class of hungry learners. What happens when one of your least disruptive students looks like they are about to burst into tears? That student may be experiencing a mental health crisis as a result of a psychological problem.

A mental health crisis is the acute manifestation of mental illness symptoms. A mental health crisis can occur to anyone, even if they do not have a diagnosed mental illness. A crisis may be caused by a mental illness or there may be an external circumstance that results in the crisis. A trigger that would initiate a mental health crisis may include sleep deprivation, a traumatic experience, excessive stress, a neurological chemical imbalance or any of a number of other factors.

Instructors have the opportunity to recognize when a student is behaving out of character. Luckily, teachers have ample opportunity to interact with students and learn how to use that interaction to identify and intervene for a student having a psychological problem. Student surveys, interest inventories, and getting to know the guardians may provide helpful background information to determine if a student is at risk of psychological problems that may result in a crisis in the classroom.

Using Student Surveys for Identification

You are already using student surveys, but you just call them quizzes or tests. Asking questions about how the students cope will add to the critical background knowledge needed to recognize the potential for a student to benefit from additional services. Some of these can be done as a class activity or in a group discussion, being aware that some students may participate more than others. Acknowledging the need to rephrase into developmentally appropriate vocabulary, some helpful questions to informally assess students might be:

  • What do you do when you get stressed or frustrated? (helps to determine existing coping skills)
  • Can you think of five people you would talk to about difficult things? (helps in identifying confidants)
  • Have you ever felt that life was too hard to go on? (helps in assessing for suicide risk)

If responses to these questions give you cause for concern, do not hesitate to seek additional resources from counseling professionals to conduct an assessment or psychological evaluation.

Interest Inventories

Interest inventories are a common type of survey used to find engaging content for readers, to keep them eager to learn. Promoting activities that a student enjoys can be critical to self-care and psychological healing. Knowing what your students like also serves to identify some additional coping skills that will increase resilience and mitigate a mental health crisis. Life-sustaining activities help people work toward recovery by acknowledging the importance of these activities in maintaining mental health.

For example, if a student indicates interest in butterflies, explaining the life cycle of a butterfly as an analogy for rebirth and resilience could help the student understand their experience. A student who likes running or sports may benefit from incorporating occasional movement breaks.

This image of the life cycle of a butterfly can be an optimistic analogy to a struggling student
line drawing of the life cycle of a butterfly

You can learn about your students' interests with a posterboard activity. Ask students to write a list of their interests on a large piece of posterboard and then share the posterboard with the class. This is a good way for students to find classmates with similar interests.

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