How Educators Can Promote Help-Seeking Behaviors Among Students

A young student looks up and smiles at their teacher.


Unraveling the Stigma: Exploring Barriers to Mental Health Support Among U.S. Teens, a new research report published by JED, shows that teens often struggle to reach out for support even though they understand how important mental health is and that getting help is crucial. 

The top barriers that prevent teens from reaching out for mental health support are their fear they won’t be understood by others and their discomfort talking about difficult feelings. Mental health stigma, including shame or embarrassment associated with difficult emotions, is persistent among older generations, but it is not a top barrier among today’s young people. It is, however, more common among Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, Black/African American, and LGBT+ teens. 

The research indicates that teens need more opportunities to learn about and practice expressing their feelings and seeking help for emotional challenges. They also need more encouragement and examples of how to find support for mental health issues, as well as more information about what they should expect when they ask for help. 

The following is a list of recommendations for educators, school leaders, and district administrators to create school communities that support help-seeking.

Equip School Staff and Faculty to Identify and Respond to Student Mental Health Concerns

Since teens engage most closely with teachers, teachers should know how to notice and respond to mental health concerns. The same is true for other school staff and faculty, such as coaches, aides, security guards, and counselors. Schools should offer annual staff training to address help-giving skills and increase staff awareness about the student body’s mental health needs. 

Schools should create policies for staff members to help increase warm handoffs to wellness centers or the counseling department when a need is identified.

Make Mental Health Resources More Accessible to Students

Students need to know how to get help both in and outside of school. Schools can post signage around the building pointing teens to available resources so they can more easily seek help when they need it. QR codes that direct teens to crisis lines and community mental health resources, as well as codes to book an appointment with a wellness center counselor on campus, offer discreet ways to seek help. Schools should also identify evidence-based mental health and mindfulness apps and provide QR codes for easy access.

To meet the diverse needs of student populations, schools can: 

  • Hire diverse counseling staff 
  • Assign students to counselors based on the best match, such as connecting students to counselors with a similar cultural identity
  • Offer multiple resources and options for in-person help
  • Provide pathways to community providers
  • Provide regular continuing-education opportunities for counseling staff to focus on culturally responsive care

Promote a Culture of Care

A culture of care in school signals to students that they are being looked after and support is always available. There are many ways to create and promote a culture of care in schools.

  • Talk about mental health in multiple settings, including the classroom, sports, and clubs and extracurriculars, to reinforce messages of help-seeking and normalize mental health concerns and difficult emotions.
  • Prioritize life skill development and mental health education to empower students to recognize and discuss mental health challenges and know how and when to seek help for themselves and others.
  • Offer social media literacy lessons to help teens navigate help-seeking in digital spaces. 
  • Provide peer mentorship programs to promote connectedness and help-seeking.
  • Create pathways for students to receive mental health support outside of school hours to reduce concerns about missing class and falling behind academically.
  • Encourage counselors and wellness center staff to build relationships and trust by joining students during free periods or lunch. 
  • Empower student leaders to design programming that builds cultural awareness and inclusivity on campus. 

For more information about promoting teen help-seeking in schools, read the full report, Unraveling the Stigma: Exploring Attitudes and Barriers to Mental Health Support Among U.S. Teens.