Impact of Mental Illness on Academics

Today is the DuPage County Institute Day. I am fortunate enough to be attending a counselor specific set of seminars, something that isn’t often available in my district. My first sessions took a deeper look at the impact mental illness can have on academic achievement. Below are my notes on the topic. I hope to post additional sessions as the day continues.

What is mental health?

a state of well being in which a person realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.


Mental health

Coping skills, balance of feeling and functioning, physically active, positive inner self, social and emotional well being, managing stress and taking positive steps forward in life


Health conditions characterized by a lack of the above.


The risk of developing a mental health condition is related to a variety of factors, including biological and environmental factors.


New challenges facing children:

increased pace of life

greater economic demands of parents

alterations in family make up and stability

breakdown of neighborhoods and extended family

weakening of community

unraveling of parent child bond

ongoing exposure to an array of digital media


More Issues:

High social stigma associated with MH Services

15% of all school aged students at one time will have a mental health problem

teachers feel unprepared to screen children

school counselor identity but do not have  time to provide treatment services

good prevention services but limited treatment services

no evidence based treatment services.


1 in 12 children have a mental illness

only 1 in 5 will receive treatment

1 in 5 adults will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives

half of those who will develop a mental illness will show warning signs by age 14

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens ages 15-24



four million children and adolescents suffer from a serious mental illness, not including addiction.

65% of girls and 75% of boys in the juvenile detention system are suffering from a mental illness. Often we see bipolar as a leading cause for penal system


Impact of untreated mental illness in the classroom:

inattentive students

poor attendance

bullying (both as the bully and the victim)

disruptive behavior

weak social skills

low achievement


High dropout rate (upwards of 50%) for students who are living with an untreated mental illness. this is the highest dropout rate of any disability group. There is a huge life impact for not receiving treatment early on.


What are mental health warning signs?

Dramatic changes in behavior: personality change, mood swings, concentration and coping, bizarre behavior, reckless behavior

Duration, persist over an extended period of time

Affects the academics: declining grades and attendance


Types of mental illness in students:

Mood disorders, thought disorders (schizophrenia/bipolar), anxiety disorders, eating disorders, ADHD


substance abuse and dependence was the most commonly diagnosed group for young people. Substance use and abuse more common than any other form of mental illness.


Students can not focus on their academic work when they are dealing with a mental illness. Mental illness can be a focus for students, it can keep them distracted from their work,


At risk groups: low income, welfare, juvenile justice, parents who have mental health concerns.


Students with mental health concerns are twice as likely to use drugs and alcohol


How do we traditionally think about good/bad students?


Good: sits still, raise hands

Bad: distracted, ignores social norms, blurts out answers, gets out of seat,


Are these behaviors really bad or are they undiagnosed signs of mental illness? How can we get teachers to shift their interpretation of this behavior?

Often mental health is not treated effectively because they rely solely on medication and do not utilize therapy. results in a temporary fix but not lasting change


ADD/ADHD falls into two categories, inattentive type and hyperactive type.


While we cannot diagnose as school counselors, we can identify and make referrals to other professionals.


Why do AHD students misbehave?

frustration of their situation
lack of structure

they act the role of being bad

they don’t know how to ask for help

feel criticized

victim cycle


What are executive functions?

cognitive process required to plan and direct activities, working memory, sustained attention, performance monitoring


these skills allow us to organize our behavior, override immediate demands in favor of long term  goals

manage emotions and thought monitoring

children with problems in a particular executive function area have a deficit in that skill area

Regulation of affect and social behavior

Prefrontal cortex is involved in EF, not fully developed in adolescents. double whammy to students with mental health concerns.


Students with ADHD have trouble with working memory, self regulation, motor control

-look for students who may be picking his nose, digging through back pack, searching for a snack,


Are these signs of poor behavior or possible ADHD?


The capacity to think before you speak. ADHD can not do this they are impulsive. We can work with these students on self control. Work on finding a way to encourage their growth in these areas.


Self regulation may cause students to be overly emotional, lack of sustained attention. Can we give more breaks or switch between tasks as teachers? Provide students with tasks to start on and initiate themselves vs teacher initiated tasks.


These students will need help with planning. We need to help them use assignment notebooks, planners, chunk large assignments. give them areas to focus on. help break down their days and create smaller short term goals.


Help students see what steps are needed to achieve their goals. They have goals but may not be able to see how to achieve those goals.


What are interventions?

Educational accommodations- executive functioning, classroom interventions

Promoting appropriate behavior

MEdication options- stimulant medications, medication side effects

WE need to advocate for these students as their counselors, teachers have enough on their plate and need our help!


Behavior modification and incentive system.


Comments are closed.