Education and mental health go hand in hand. For anyone who is experiencing mental health issues, undertaking a qualification or course can be a vehicle for change. It can serve to be a personal target or one to improve their career prospects- allowing for learners to self-actualise and realise their potential.
In the same vein as exercise can be therapeutic for mental health, education is a fantastic tool for furthering oneself- it requires focus, vigour, resilience and ultimately the sense of pride and achievement felt upon achieving your goals.

It is arguably the duty of our teachers and trainers to find the right accord to inspire and to care for the individual needs of each learner. By simply adopting a conscientious approach you can help pick up on the signs that a learner is experiencing some difficult times.

Increased awareness of mental health has helped it come out of the darkness and into the light in recent years and all for good reason. Statistics state that 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental health issue within their lifetime. Whether this may be the end of a relationship, a bereavement in the family, a loss of job, addiction or simply a personal issue, an individual’s mental state can be naturally rocked by these changes.

Recognising the signs of mental health issues can be difficult, the classic example is a learner states that they are ‘fine’ when in most cases they are going through a personal struggle alone through a ‘tunnel vision’ mind set and reluctant to reach out for help for fear of being labelled or any perceived repercussions.
When a learner does disclose that they are going through a difficult period- reassure them, there is no shame in admitting there is a problem and support is always available to dealing with issues head on. As a teacher or trainer it is important to understand that we are not trained counsellors, we are merely supporters that can recommend channels to overcome these challenges. Ultimately each learner is different when dealing with mental health, some may openly accept your advice, others may prefer to go it alone. The process to overcoming issues can be a short or long process dependent on the individual. Be understanding, supportive and above all patience is key.

Here are a number of ways to recognise the signs and ways to provide support to your learners 

Use Your Specialists

Every education and training organisation will have a staff member who is trained within providing support for mental health issues. Typically, personnel, pastoral teams or a safeguarding officer. It would be beneficial to know who your ‘specialists’ are and who to sign post your learners to. If you do have any concerns, why not approach your designated staff member and seek advice in person.

Presence of Contact Information

For any learner who does not want to speak to someone face-face, the presence of websites and contact telephone numbers within your classroom can be a vital point of contact. For example, having a wall detailing numbers of mental health charities such as Mind or Samaritans can help learners to be proactive and promotes the exposure of seeking help for mental health issues. 


The individual learning plan meetings are an excellent way to speak to learners, not just about the academic progress but to see how they are feeling and coping with the course content. When these meetings do occur, try to ask open questions which will allow for a greater response from your learners. A learner may need additional time within an assignment for example. Following the meeting, try to implement an agreed plan to help your learner progress with their qualification. 

Examples of Mental Health Cases

As previously mentioned, the subject of mental health is gaining more exposure in present day than ever before. A useful idea is to show examples of famous people such athletes, writers and actors who have suffered with setbacks and mental health problems and have overcome these with support. Try to make this relevant to your own subject by creating more awareness. this in turn will hopefully let your learners recognise that the person that they aspire to become has overcome adversities to get to where they are now.  

Prevent Strategy

The prevent strategy is a Government initiative for all schools and registered childcare providers to prevent children and young people to be drawn into terrorism and being radicalised by certain groups. If you notice that your learners are behaving differently in class, they could be distracted, agitated or even researching topics which are related to terrorism.

The first port of call is to speak to your specialist such as a safeguarding officer and then the correct channels such as the police can be notified of any concerns. It is also good practice for all of your learners to be able to recognise the signs if their fellow peers are being radicalised and who to report their concerns to. 

Recognising the signs

Recognising the signs of abuse are not always easy and some learners cover any signs or try to avoid attention being drawn to them. The basic signs of abuse can be changes in behaviour, injuries and signs of being withdrawn and reluctant to socialise with fellow class members. If you do detect any signs of abuse, then it is best practice to record all of your concerns and approach your designated welfare staff member as soon as possible. 

The main types of abuse are:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse 
  • Psychological abuse
  • Neglect
  • Emotional

Greeting Your Learners

When learners enter your class be sure to greet them and welcome them to the learning environment, you will be able to tell from their expressions and body language whether or not they are their usual selves. If you do notice something different in their behaviour- ask them for a quick chat after the lesson has ended to see if everything is ok with them. 

Have a Time Out

If you see a learner that is ‘pent up’ or showing signs of distress, do not wait for the allocated break, and allow for them to have a time out there and then. A learner who is frustrated within your lesson is no good for yourself or fellow learners. Let them have a walk, some fresh air or water and when they are ready, have a quick chat with them outside of the classroom and allow them back in. They will be thankful for this and it will allow for them to refocus on their work or task better. For anything serious, do use your judgement and follow this up if necessary. 

Time Keeping

Late assignment submissions or simply being late to your lessons are classic signs that something is not right. For every time this does happen, record these occasions and document their behaviour. If you do approach them and are open about their time keeping, reassure them and provide alternatives such as catch up sessions or meetings with learning support. If they are negative and demonstrate closed behaviour, then you may wish to pass these concerns onto your specialist’s. 

Support Focus

Let your learners know that you are both approachable both before and after your lesson. It may be your learner has a question regarding your subject, but sometimes they may wish to get their feelings off their chest. If this does happen, do listen to them and offer advice and support. 

Contact Websites
Mind -
Samaritans -
Anxiety -
Alcoholics Anonymous -
Rape Crisis -
Victim Support -

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash