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Preventing Mental Health Problems

Questions for schools:

1. What are the links between substance use and mental health issues?

2. Can we prevent mental health issues in children and youth people?


This paper intends to provide teachers, educators, and the wider school workforce with practical guidelines on how to prevent children and young people from developing mental health problems as a result of alcohol and drug misuse. As children grow up and develop strategies on how to become resilient and learn to cope with life’s challenges such as the loss of a friend, the death of a family member, divorce, or changing schools. Nonetheless, a complex interaction of behavioural, biological, and enviromental factors places some children at greater risk than others for emotional and behavioural disorders that can range from mild to severe and may be long-lasting. These disorders can disrupt a child’s ability to cope and can interfere with their ability to learn and develop. This is why early detection helps teachers, parents, and carers identify children’s emotional or behavioural challenges and assist in making available the appropriate services and support before their problems worsen and longer term consequences develop. Mentor promotes evidence-based prevention practices around alcohol and drug misuse. This briefing paper is part of a series of resources available for teachers, facilitators, and leadership roles. The principal objective is to enable young people’s healthy development and resilience with regards to mental health and substance misuse.

What is mental health?

Like adults, children and young people can have periods of mental and emotional distress that interfere with how they think, feel, and act. Indeed, some of these may be difficult to seperate from perceived “normal” adolescent behaviour. Such problems – if not addressed – may interfere with learning and the ability to form and sustain friendships, contribute to disciplinary problems and family conflicts, and increase risky behaviours including harmful alcohol and drug use. There are a wide range of mental health conditions they can experience, but the majority can be described as either emotional or behavioural disorders. Within these two distinct groups are a number of particular conditions that span spectrums of severity and complexity.

The most common emotional disorders among children and young people are anxiety and depression. Anxiety can either be specific to certain situations or events, such as social anxiety which affects a young person’s ability to meet new people and speak in front of large groups, or be more general and affect a wide range of everyday life activities. Anxiety is often accompained by physical symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, poor concentration, irritability, and insomnia. Symptoms of emotional disorders in children and young people can sometimes be brought about by exposure to prolonged or acute “stresssor” situations or experiences, such as changing school, bereavement, or parental seperation. Furthermore, adolescents are thought to face a number of particular and unique stressors brought about by increased independence and autonomy, the physical changes that come with puberty, and educational pressures.

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