Simplicity, Harmony, and Opportunity: Strategies That Support Students’ Mental Health

Elaine Gould, M.Ed.

By designing supportive classroom environments, teachers can positively impact the mental health of their students. When teachers build positive relationships with their students and provide structured opportunities for them to interact with and help one another, students learn and practice the necessary skills to develop and maintain relationships with their peers and other adults (Hornby & Atkinson, 2003; Johnson, Poliner, & Bonaiuto, 2005).

Providing well-designed opportunities for academic and non-academic interaction among students creates a classroom culture that supports the emotional well-being of all students. Allowing students to come together as a class or as part of a structured cooperative learning group creates a sense of classroom community, increases active engagement and positive student behavior, and improves student-teacher relationships (Johnson et al., 2005). Figure 1 and Table 1 provide suggestions and resources to foster healthy classrooms. 

Table 1   Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Characteristics, Difficulties, and Supportive Strategies

Presenting Characteristics

Educational/Social Difficulties

Classroom Strategies

Obsession with neatness,
correctness, and being on time

  • Note-taking
  • Completing
  • Organization of materials

Teach structured note taking strategies to prevent students from getting “bogged down” with details 

Develop  teacher-student contracts with clear benchmark and completion dates

Highly competitive and critical of their performance


Need for excessive control

  • Dissatisfaction with academic performance
  • Difficulty building relationships with students and adults

Structure cooperative learning groups to create opportunities for interaction with others and decrease focus on themselves and their performance

Figure 1  Creating Classroom Enviornments That Support Students' Mental Health


                                                                                     (Hornby & Atkinson, 2003)

You may know a student who has mental health issues that impact his or her ability to meet the academic and social demands of the classroom.  It is important to learn about the mental health conditions that children face and to understand which strategies are most helpful in providing opportunities for students to achieve academic success (Hornby & Atkinson, 2003). To learn more about a student who has a mental health disorder, listen to Emily as she describes her experiences with OCD and read about strategies that may support a student like her in the classroom.

Perhaps you have a student with a mental health diagnosis in your classroom. It is important to learn who your students are and in what ways you can help them to be successful.


Emily is a college student who served as a student mentor at the 2011 Say YES to College event at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. In middle school, she was diagnosed as having Obsessive compulsive Disorder (OCD). In K-12 settings, many of the behaviors related to OCD (Table 1) are praised by educators and are means by which students can achieve their academic goals (Parker & Stewart, 1994); however, when students encounter the demands of college or other postsecondary environments, they may not be prepared for the obstacles they may face. Click here to listen to Emily’s story as she describes the challenges of meeting the expectations she had for herself while experiencing the independence of college life.

 Table 2 Classroom Resources for Supporting Students' Mental Health

Strategy Resources
(Click to go to link)

Cooperative Learning

Peer Tutoring

Morning Meetings

Developing Relationships With Students

Implement Instructional Practices

School is a place where students spend a great deal of time interacting with their peers and adults. This environment provides a rich opportunity for teachers to create experiences that foster the development of positive relationships. As seen in Figure 1 and Table 2, effective interventions for students who have mental health issues contribute to the emotional well-being of all students; therefore, teachers should invest their time in creating opportunities for students to feel like contributing and valued members of a classroom community.


Hornby, G., & Atkinson, M. (2003). A framework for preventing mental health in school. Pastoral Care in Education, 21(2), 3-9.

Johnson, G., Poliner, R., & Bonaiuto, S. (2005). Learning throughout the day. Educational Leadership, 63, 59-63.

Parker, Z., & Stewart, E. (1994). School consultation and the management of obsessive compulsive personality in the classroom, Adolescence, 29, 563-575.