Mental health matters. It matters at home, it matters at school, and it matters in our students’ futures. In this article, we share what mental health is, what anxiety feels like for students, and how schools can change the mental health landscape. We also explain what Learnwell is doing to impact the conversation.

Why Mental Health Matters

The term “mental health” refers to a person’s emotional, psychological and social well-being. How do we know if we have adequate support for our mental health as parents? How do we know if our students have sufficient support for their mental health?

Mental health matters because it defines how we as parents are coping with stressful situations and circumstances, and it matters because students learn from parents, teachers, and counselors — and other students — about how to process their inner world and how they can feel seen, safe, and heard. Understanding healthy ways to cope with stress and practicing regular reflection rhythms are important mental health strategies.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety impacts our physical bodies and our thought patterns; it can encompass thoughts related to worry, and can include physical processes such as increased blood pressure, stomach woes, and other symptoms. According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety “is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.”

What Anxiety Feels Like

The Child Mind Institute says anxiety can impact our students (and ourselves) in a variety of ways — everything from shortness of breath to tense muscles. In school, students may show anxiety in the following ways:

  • Struggling with fear and worry about a particular subject
  • Avoiding school and/or schoolwork at home
  • A student is extremely tough on himself or herself, which can have a negative impact on their mental health
  • Students struggle to recover quickly from getting a lower grade than expected or from realizing they missed something in class
  • Sleeping patterns change and, therefore, impact a student’s ability to concentrate
  • Students’ social and emotional concerns, such as worry about a friend’s thoughts toward them, are pervasive and consistent, no matter the circumstances

Why Anxiety and Mental Health Matter at Learnwell

One of the founding principles behind the story of Learnwell is a focus on mental health. Learnwell’s founder and principal, Dr. Melissa Shipman, believes that better mental heatlh outcomes should be integrated into an excellent education. If they aren’t, the education does not prepare a student for life outside of school.

A story Dr. Shipman tells is about several years ago when she asked a few students what they wanted to do after high school. Students would share that they knew how to get good grades, but they didn’t understand what made them unique or what they enjoyed doing.

Dr. Shipman shares this story to illustrate the importance of a school that builds into its educational model the opportunity for students to explore who they are, how God wired them, and what they enjoy and are good at; these discoveries can help guard students against low self-esteem and anxiety.

An excellent education needs to emphasize strong academics. But it also must include time for students to put their talents and passions into practice. These pursuits help shape their overall mental health and can go a long way toward providing scaffolding for how they learn, what mindfulness strategies are involved in the learning process, and how what works for one student may not work for another — and that’s okay.

what anxiety feels like

At Learnwell, especially in middle and high school, students take Life Skills & Discipleship classes with experienced teachers who recognize the importance of thinking beyond good grades. They want students to thrive mentally, emotionally, and socially, too.

Some of the ways Learnwell supports good mental health are

  • Allowing time, through the hybrid model, for pursuit of hobbies, interests, and talents
  • Providing opportunities for students at all grade levels to explore their interests in the arts, technology, robotics and more through the REACH program
  • Giving students the autonomy to learn who they are and what they need
  • Staffing the school with supportive, caring Christian teachers and staff who care about the whole child and know the students well
  • Intentionally training and trusting students to lead in their own education as they go from middle to high school
  • Fostering leadership opportunities that build student confidence
  • Reading books and providing resource lists for students, beginning in 8th grade, to understand how impactful their thought processes are on their mental health journey
  • Collaborating with teachers and families to individualize a child’s education where necessary and feasible
  • Regularly asking for feedback from parents and students about how their needs are being met
  • Modeling for students how to reflect, review, and shift their mindsets in the classroom
  • Posting a mental health board that reminds students of foundational concepts, such as, “It’s okay to have a bad day,” and, “It’s okay to ask for help.”
  • Coaching students how to reframe negative self-talk

If your student is struggling with mental health, we invite you to attend our next Discover Learnwell parent information meeting. We’ll share about the school, and you’ll get to meet a few parents and teachers, be able to ask questions and tour the school.