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Children's Mental Health Terms


Explained by a Counseling Expert

Today's teachers see many more emotionally impaired students than earlier generations. Yet, despite this reality, except for special educators, teacher preparation programs continue to include virtually no practical mental health training. That is why so many teachers and principals can feel that their skills are not sufficient to adequately teach and manage students with serious mental health problems.

Understanding the language of children's mental health disorders is critical if teachers, principals and other educators are to effectively work with students who evidence severe emotional disturbance. In Youth Change's professional development workshops, we find that participants often guess at the meaning of common children's mental health terms, or have incorrect perceptions about what the terms mean.

teacher professional developmentMy name is Ruth Herman Wells, M.S., Director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. I have devoted my life to counseling and helping emotionally disturbed, troubled, challenged and distressed children and adolescents. Each year I train hundreds of educators, teaching them how to successfully teach and help students with emotional issues.

In this article, I hope to help you get a better understanding of basic mental health terminology so you can better understand and assist your troubled students. Better understanding basic mental health terms will also help you better communicate with mental health professionals about the issues you are seeing in your classroom and around your school.

Below is a list of some of the mental health problems that psychologists, counselors, social workers and family therapists believe are occurring at a greater frequency now vs. a generation ago.

While no one knows for sure if these problems are happening more often, or if perhaps we are just getting better at identifying them, everyone seems to agree that there are far more emotionally disturbed children and teens in school than decades ago.

This list of emotional problems below not only captures some of the most common mental health disorders evidenced by today's students, but it is also a list of childhood disorders that every teacher needs to know about. That means that at a minimum, every teacher should have a basic understanding of:

(1.) The disorder

(2.) What to do or not to do when working with students evidencing this particular type of problem.

Each type of emotional disorder requires a different approach. There is no single, one-size-fits-all approach that will fit the range of students' mental health disorders. While only mental health professionals can diagnose these disorders, educators do need to be able to understand the implications of the diagnosis, and how to specifically tailor their teaching and behavior management accordingly.

Here is the list of basic mental health disorders and a very brief, minimal definition to at least paint you a very quick picture of what this emotional problem is about. This is information that every K-12 teacher, principal and teaching assistant should know and thoroughly understand.


classroom management expertChildren's Mental Health Disorders Defined

Conduct Disorder: Extreme acting-out towards others, property, manipulation; lacks conscience, remorse, relationship-capacity.

Bipolar Disorder: Extreme, fast swings from depression to manic behavior.

Oppositional-Defiant Disorder: Defiance, acting-out, misbehavior; often confused with Conduct Disorder

Asperger's Disorder: Autism spectrum disorder, social functioning problems.

Thought Disorder: Extreme problems with thoughts, possible delusions, visions, irrationality.

Depression: Extreme despondency, dejection, hopelessness, discouragement.

Anxiety Disorders: Include generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Effect: Pattern of birth defects due to excessive alcohol use by mother during pregnancy.

Substance Abuse: Excessive, daily or long-term use of alcohol, drugs, other substances.

Attachment Disorder: Problems with mood, behavior and relationships due to lack of a secure bond with caregiver in infancy.

Borderline Personality: A personality disorder; instability, volatile behavior and mood, anger management and relationship issues.

ADD and ADHD: Persistent pattern of impulsiveness, short attention span, can include hyperactivity.

If you click on the clickable items shown on the list above in blue, you will reach a page on our site to give you more information on that disorder. However, learning the details on common childhood emotional disturbance problems is not a 10 minute process. It will require more in-depth training than the relatively brief information in our articles.

online teacher professional developmentIf you want a relatively quick way to get the mental health training that was omitted from your teacher prep, our Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop will provide this type of more comprehensive professional development training in an efficient manner. This 10 hour course is offered in live workshops, and other formats as well. This training course can also scheduled for your site, professional development inservice day or training conference. Or, you can take the training course online anytime on nearly any device connected to the internet.

The bottom line: Teachers are going to continue to see an increasing number of students with severe emotional problems. Whether or not teacher university training evolves to include basic mental health preparation, today's K-12 instructors are going to need to thoroughly understand children's mental health basics.




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on-site workshops

If you want to best prepare your whole staff to become ready to help severely emotionally disturbed children and teens, schedule an on-site professional development workshop that will deliver essential basic mental health skill training to your entire faculty team.

Call 1.800.545.5736 or email for more details.

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