Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools: Foundations for Learning and Societal Priorities

Mental Health and Well-Being in Schools: Foundations for Learning and Societal Priorities

February 7, 2024


Exploring mental health and well-being is crucial in today’s context, where these factors significantly influence our quality of life. Addressing mental health complexities through education, counselling, and socio-economic policies is pivotal to enhancing individual and community well-being, especially in educational settings. Gross (2023) emphasises that a deeper understanding of mental health shapes our holistic view of human nature. A recent Ipsos survey for World Mental Health Day, which revealed that 76% of respondents globally equate mental health with physical health and emphasised its significance among young people, underlines this. Untreated mental health issues in children and adolescents pose a risk of persisting into adulthood, signalling an urgent need for proactive measures in schools to prevent a future adult mental health crisis.

Mental Health is a global concern

Despite significant scientific advances demonstrating the potential for preventing and treating mental disorders and promoting mental health, their implementation in practice has been painfully slow. The global burden of mental disorders has increased in all countries in the context of major demographic, environmental, and sociopolitical changes. Happiness levels decline steadily during adolescence.

Teenagers are increasingly feeling unhappy, anxious, and depressed. Of grave concern is the fact that today's teenagers are much more likely to engage in self-harm and develop eating disorders or suicidal thoughts.

Harvard Medical School is warning of a children's mental health crisis in the United States, calling it a national emergency (Gross, 2023). In the UK, more than 400,000 children are treated for mental health problems every month, indicating an unprecedented crisis in child and adolescent wellbeing (Cavioni et al., 2020). At the same time, UNICEF reports a deterioration in the mental health of children in Europe and draws attention to the fact that today, suicide is the second leading cause of death among European youth (Plan d'action global pour la santé mentale 2013–2020). The adolescent mental health crisis is becoming a global problem. It is obvious that school can become a landscape where the most effective efforts can be made to preserve, restore, and improve the mental health of children and adolescents.

The Education System's Role in Promoting Mental Health

Schools play a vital role in promoting positive mental health and are uniquely positioned to reach all children. In addition, schools offer fewer barriers to intervention than do society or the health care system outside of educational settings. A sense of belonging at school, also called “school connectedness,” is an important indicator of mental health (Widnall et al., 2022). This is about relationships with teachers, school staff, and peers and reflects how much students feel accepted, appreciated, and included in the community. Research shows that good relationships at school, including attachment to teachers, connectedness to school, and a sense of community, directly influence good mental health and levels of life satisfaction (Norwich et al., 2022).

UNICEF identifies five key areas for promoting and protecting mental health in education and learning (Hollinsley, 2019). These are, in particular:

  • Creating a conducive learning environment for good mental health and well-being
  • Guarantee of availability of early intervention, mental health care and mental health support
  • Increasing teachers’ well-being
  • Improving mental health and increasing psychosocial support for education workers
  • Ensuring effective collaboration between school, family and community to create a safe and supportive learning environment

Teacher Well-Being and Student Development

Teacher subjective well-being is important for the quality of education and student development. Psychological well-being is considered a key position in the professional and personal sphere of the teacher, associated with the effectiveness of translating standards of normative behaviour to students (Hascher & Waber, 2021). Scientists have empirically established that teachers with a high level of professional development of such integral personal characteristics as flexibility and self-awareness are more able to ensure the psychological safety of students (Zakaria et al. 2021). At the same time, the destructive patterns acquired by students at school determine the likelihood of limited role models for identification and imitation, which causes possible problems of psychological safety in the educational environment.

The literature confirms the existence of a connection between the values of adolescents and the psycho-emotional well-being of teachers (Bilz et al., 2022). The psychological well-being of a teacher is of utmost importance for developing a student's personality.

We can't address the mental health of students and provide necessary support within educational institutions if our teachers are struggling and our school leaders lack the tools to assist them. A recent post-COVID study in Singapore, titled "A Report on the ‘Silent Pandemic’," conducted jointly by Singapore Counselling Services & ACC Institute of Human Services, highlights the challenges faced by teachers on several critical fronts, such as managing student behaviour, workload, and parent-teacher relationships. These aspects are equally crucial for creating a healthy learning environment in schools.

(Teachers Mental Health in Singapore, 2011)

Co-Education and Family-School Collaboration - ecosystem

Parents play a key role in preventing children's and adolescents’ mental health problems. Numerous studies show that parental involvement in a child's life positively impacts their well-being (Gerdes et al., 2020). Parenting methods are a significant factor. In particular, it has been proven that parental warmth and kindness positively affect the child's psychological well-being, while parental disapproval and overprotectiveness reduce his/her self-esteem and increase psychological inflexibility (Epstein, 2018). Therefore, a balance of efforts between family and school is necessary to create a psychologically comfortable environment for the student.

The student is the link between school and family, as the semantic center of their interaction and mutual relationships (The teachers’ series: A report on the “silent pandemic”, 2021).

Parents learn a lot about their child in communication with the teacher, but the teacher also expands their understanding of the student in conversations with parents. Understanding the child’s inner world, experiences, and needs, which he is not always aware of, is a task facing both the teacher and the parents. The educational and developmental effect is significantly enhanced with active interaction between family and school and joint organisation of educational and health-improving work based on mutual trust and cooperation (Paccaud et al., 2021).

The pressing question is whether schools and educational institutions can effectively sensitise parents and undertake the crucial task of prevention and support for key mental health issues. By actively engaging in this effort, schools have the potential to influence the wider ecosystem, ensuring cohesion, continuity, and effectiveness. This approach not only supports the well-being of students within the school environment but also extends its impact to the home, fostering a unified and comprehensive approach to mental health and well-being.

Positive Psychology in Teaching

Positive education is defined as education aimed at developing traditional skills and achieving happiness. There is growing evidence that “positive teaching” helps children cope with anxiety, increase self-confidence and achieve good results in school. In Australia, one of the schools has developed an entire programme teaching happiness. Since 2008, students at Geelong High School in Australia have been enrolled in a “Positive Education” programme that combines regular lessons with positive psychology (Allen et al. 2022).

A positive school climate has lasting positive qualities. It promotes social and personal development and quality education for students, brings a creative spirit to constructive activities, and determines life satisfaction for all subjects of educational relations. Teachers and psychologists point out that the psychological climate at school can impact personal development, academic success, and, in general, a student's well-being. It is necessary to focus psychological support on effectively expanding the positive experience of solving problematic communicative tasks and personal problems. Programmes aimed at increasing hope and optimism in a practical problem-solving paradigm may enhance subjective well-being (SWB) and reduce psychological distress in schoolchildren (de Oliveira et al., 2022).

In addition, positive psychological interventions have empirically proven effectiveness as practical tools that solve socialisation problems (Martin, 2017).

Holistic Approach to Mental Well-Being in Schools. The “I Feel Good at School” Programme

With over two decades in the field of education, I have been deeply engaged with the crucial issues of mental well-being and holistic development in schools. Throughout my career, I have always been driven by the belief that the values espoused by educational institutions should not be mere words but must be translated into concrete actions.

My experience has shown that isolated initiatives often have limited impact. It's paramount that teachers and parents learn alongside the children, serving as role models and guides in their developmental journey.

This understanding led me to co-create the "I Feel Good at School" programme, a comprehensive initiative that fosters well-being within the educational environment. This programme is not just about imparting knowledge; it is a training ground for teachers, equipping them with the skills to teach effectively and model psychosocial competencies. We aim to explore whether nurturing these practices in educators can catalyse similar habits in the classroom setting.

The increasing focus on mental well-being in schools necessitates a holistic approach that includes teachers and students. By training teachers to enhance student well-being and fostering collaboration between schools and families, we aim to create a nurturing educational environment where mental well-being is a priority. Our educational systems must prioritise academic skills and the mental and emotional health of the entire school community, ensuring a balanced and comprehensive approach to learning and development.

The vision of this programme is below.

In conclusion, school students' mental health is a vital public health concern. Awareness campaigns focusing on mental health are essential in providing parents, carers, educators, policymakers, and young people with the necessary knowledge and support. Such initiatives are crucial to unlocking the full potential of individuals and fostering psychological adaptiveness. By prioritising mental health awareness in our educational and social frameworks, we address immediate needs and lay the groundwork for a healthier, more resilient future generation. These efforts contribute significantly to the holistic development of young minds, preparing them to navigate the complexities of life with greater resilience and adaptability.

Do email Maria at if you wish to know more about the “I Feel Good at School” programme.


Allen, K.-A., Furlong, M., Vella-Brodrick, D., Suldo, Sh. (Eds.) (2022). Handbook of positive psychology in schools: Supporting process and practice. Routledge.

Bilz, L., Fischer, S. M., Hoppe-Herfurth, A.-C., & John, N. (2022). A consequential partnership: The association between teachers’ well-being and students’ well-being and the role of teacher support as a mediator. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 230(3), 264-275.

Cavioni, V., Grazzani, I., & Orhaghi, V. (2020). Mental health promotion in schools: A comprehensive theoretical framework. International Journal of Emotional Education, 12(1), 65-82.

de Oliveira, C., Almeida, C., & Giacomoni, C. (2022). School-based positive psychology interventions that promote well-being in children: A systematic review. Child Indicators Research, 15(1), 1-19.

Epstein, J. L. (2018). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Routledge.

Gerdes, J., Goei, S., Huizinga, M., Ruyter, D. (2020). True partners? Exploring family-school partnership in secondary education from a collaboration perspective. Educational Review, 72(4), 805-823.

Gross, B. (2023). Student mental health and well-being: A review of evidence and emerging solutions. Mary Lou Futton Teachers College, Arizona State University.

Hascher, T., & Waber, J. (2021). Teacher well-being: A systematic review of the research literature from the year 2000-2019. Educational Research Review, 34, 100411.

Hollinsley, J. (2019). An educator's guide to mental health and wellbeing in schools. John Catt Educational.

World Mental Health Day 2022: Three in four globally say mental and physical health are equally important (2022, October 5). Ipsos.

Martin, R. (2017). Positive psychology in schools: A change with deep roots. Psychologist Papers, 38(1), 66-71.

Norwich, B., Moore, D., Stentiford, L., Hall, D. (2022). A critical consideration of ‘mental health and wellbeing’ in education: Thinking about school aims in terms of wellbeing. British Educational Research Journal, 48(4), 803-820.

Paccaud, A., Keller, R., Luder, R., Pastore, G., Kunz, A. (2021). Satisfaction with the collaboration between families and schools – the parent’s view. Frontiers in Education, 6, 1-13.

Plan d'action global pour la santé mentale 2013-2020. Organisation mondiale de la Sante.

The teachers’ series: A report on the “silent pandemic” (2021). ACC Institute of Human Services.

Widnall, E., Winstone, L., Plackett, R., Adams, E., Haworth, C., Mars, B., Kidger, J. (2022). Impact of school and peer connectedness on adolescent mental health and well-being outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic: A longitudinal panel survey. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(11), 6768.

Zakaria, Z., Don, Y., Yaakob, M. (2021). Teachers’ well-being from the social psychological perspective. International Journal of Evaluation and Research in Education, 10(2), 641-647.

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