Teaching and mental health: Are teachers trained to deal with mental health cases in the classroom?

Teaching and mental health: Are teachers trained to deal with mental health cases in the classroom?

Every day we know more and understand less. Albert Einstein

The complexity of the topic to be treated starts from two points: Education and mental health. However, it is necessary to consider other points of complex understanding. The actors involved in this reflection are: teachers, parents and children, psychologists, psychiatrists, institutions (family and government agencies), theoretical perspectives of human development, education policies of each country and scientific understanding of mental illnesses, among others.


  • 1 Different angles to analyze Human Development
  • 2 Relationship with the Psychoanalytic approach
  • 3 Areas of development
  • 4 The imperceptible influence of emotions between parents and children
  • 5 The misunderstood understanding of mental illness
  • 6 The concept of abnormality
  • 7 WHO's point of view
  • 8 Developmental Disorders
  • 9 Inclusive education

Different angles to analyze Human Development

Human Development is the scientific study of the processes of change and stability during the human life cycle (Papalia & Martorell, 2017, p. 3).

At least five theoretical perspectives and research on Human Development are distinguished, namely:

  1. Psychoanalytic, explains the causes of all behavior through unconscious impulses.
  2. Of learning, there are different perspectives inside, and they explain the observable and conscious behavior of the subjects.
  3. The cognitiveIt also has different variants and analyzes the structures, processes and products of the behavior itself. "It depends on the way people think they act"
  4. Contextual which analyzes the impact of the historical, social and cultural context that influence the behavior of the subjects.
  5. The evolutionary / sociobiological, which analyzes the evolutionary and biological foundations of behavior.

These perspectives are based on different assumptions and today are considered the basis for analyzing the behavior of human beings from before their birth until their death. They analyze the processes of behavior development and the processes of change or stability from a scientific approach.

Currently there is no dominant perspective and in this case the analysis corresponds to a first approach through a transdisciplinary and therefore holistic approach where the limits of one approach overlap or complement each other, only some general guidelines of the topic are presented .

Relationship with the psychoanalytic approach

Although from this perspective the unconscious behavior of the patient and of course the stages of his childhood are taken into account. They can also involve in the gestation of a child, the past resolved not by parents, grandparents.

There is evidence that proves how from before conception a human being can come to this world with some advantages or disadvantages that will influence his moment of birth and the development of his whole life as a human being.

Concepts such as repetition compulsion (of Freudian origin), they point out that at the level of a specific psychopathology, it can be repeated, an ancient experience whose prototype could come from the parents or from someone in the family tree itself and be repeated in each of us (APA, 2010 , p. 92; Laplanche & Pontalis, 1993, p. 68). Thus the unresolved emotional conflicts of previous generations, we end up repeating them but we make them aware.

The psychiatrist Tomas Verny (1981) in his book The secret life of the child before birth, "points out the connection between both parents with the child, emphasizing the physical, emotional and mental aspects." It has proven how the gestation process influences the development of the fetus also for better or worse, through the healthy or toxic environment that parents live. The negative stress experienced by the mother, the absence of the father, poor nutrition or conflicts between parents influence the fetal development of children. Along the same lines, psychoneuroendocrinoimmunology proves that large amounts of stress in the mother affect her immune system and in the case of children born also, in fact, it happens with anyone undergoing large doses of stress.

There is evidence that from the mother's womb the fetus can suffer large doses of stress that will affect her extrauterine life as has been demonstrated by the molecular biologist Bruce Lipton (Lipton, s / f): “The mother's environment is the environment of the fetus. If the mother is happy, the fetus has a happy chemistry, if the mother is afraid the fetus has the chemistry of fear, if the mother does not want the fetus because it will interfere with the family, the baby has the rejection chemistry even before of being born The point, 50% of our personality develops with the chemistry of the belly before being born, which is connected to the mother and father. Not only the mother because if the father does not act well, it affects the emotions of the mother, which then affect the emotions of the fetus. ”

Development Areas

Development scientists also analyze the processes of change and stability at different stages of the life cycle. They focus their attention on three main aspects: physical, cognitive and psychosocial.

  • From physical development they analyze: body and brain growth, sensory abilities, motor skills, and health.
  • Cognitive development pay attention: in learning, attention, different types of memory (short term, long term, sensory, iconic, procedural, autobiographical, semantic, echoic and more), language, thinking, reasoning and creativity to name a few.
  • Of psychosocial development they emphasize: in emotions (positive / negative classified in this way as a starting point of a pedagogical approach), personality, socialization processes, social interaction and social relations.

The imperceptible influence of emotions between parents and children

Humans come to the world more unprotected than any other species. We are the being that requires more care from their parents, but at the same time the one who experiences a greater learning, lasting decades. But in reality we are not born naked at all; there is something we bring incorporated from “factory” and it is an inventory of unconscious responses to passions, affections and forgetfulness of those around us: the basic and universal emotions. Thus, at birth, we are 100% emotional, pure intuition, and as we learn we acquire skills to face life in a rational, premeditated way (Punset & Bisquerra, 2017).

The relationship between children's learning and emotions occurs from the womb, as evidenced by the aforementioned evidence. This learning is also experienced with coping styles in the face of parents' stress that affect them in conflict situations, and consequently impact the child's neuronal development.

In the same way it happens when the concept called family imprint in the brain is analyzed. Alice Graham, a researcher at the University of Oregon, says: “stress and heartbreak in the home involve children with obvious damage during their upbringing. Decades of research have also allowed us to document the psychological consequences in adulthood of such experiences (among them, latent depressions and difficulties in maintaining emotional relationships). Current studies confirm that a conflictive family life causes serious physiological effects on neural development. The child's brain has an exquisite sensitivity heated discussions affect little ones even when they sleep. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging, it was found that children from families who reported strong home conflicts (superior to the usual ones) were more sensitive to aggressive or angry voices. Brain excitement was concentrated in the areas responsible for the regulation of emotions and stress. They concluded that: the little ones absorb information and learn incessantly, not only when we believe that we are teaching them. We should keep in mind that what happens in the environment can be literally configuring the physical connections in your brain ”(Chant, 2013, p. 8). A stressful environment full of discussions activates the cerebral tonsils, the command center of emotions. Children with troubled homes develop mental problems and also conflicting relationships in adolescence or adulthood.

An alarming fact in this regard is that of the resilience specialist and survivor of the concentration camps Boris Cyrulnik, in his work Ugly ducklings, mentions that there are families so conflictive that they generate more damage in their members, worse than a concentration camp (Cyrulnik, 2003, p. 28).

The adverse conditions of childhood strongly influence the presence of subsequent mental illnesses then, whether due to: a conflictive gestation process, the absence of the father, the mismanagement of the emotions of the parents when they are born, the family environment that surrounds Children, even when they are sleeping and all this breeding ground that makes up toxic families, is worse than living in a concentration camp, with all negative consequences that have an impact on childhood or adulthood of children.

The misunderstood understanding of mental illness

Since the prehistory of man, we have not understood mental illnesses. There was no cure! Who had a condition was stigmatized and tortured.

In the prehistory of Psychology, the sick had no hope of being understood and taken care of healthily, and therefore cured.

The stigma of "sick", presented with different conditions:

  • They were called lunatics and a great influence of the moon in its behavior was supposed. There were no mental illnesses, everything was classified under the concept of "madness".
  • The madness was due to external forces (demons or bad gods). People were considered animals. Madmen were deprived of social interaction.
  • People considered crazy, presented a different behavior in the social, individual, cultural and contextual.

The first treatments were radical, it was cured with:

  • Air: the skull of the patients was cracked so that air entered the brain and the demons were released. Of course when making a hole in the brain or trepanation, there was no guarantee that only the skull would be perforated, almost always the damage ended with major physical trauma. Of course it involved damaging the brain mass to different degrees, with the neurological consequences that implied.
  • Fire: the demons within the people were neutralized with fire and ended up burned at the stake.
  • Water: the madness was cured with cold water baths, they were almost drowned and a long time later, they were practiced baths with magnetized water, or hot and relaxing. The latter were experienced by really lucky people.
  • Hand implantation: by the time of Jesus Christ it was the most usual method.
  • Chain: because of the type of disorderly behaviors that some people presented, they were immobilized and chained.
  • They were tested; lashes, kicks, bleeding (applying suckers or leeches) and many more radical procedures for "the good of the patient."

Each head is a world. No two brains think exactly the same. And, it is a fact that our brain can get sick like any other organ. In fact, the stigma of isolating the different is still preserved and more in schools where hardly the teacher, the counselor, the psychologist or the doctor of the school if there are, know exactly what it is. Even this continues to happen many times, even when the child is taken to specialized sites of educational institutions.

Turning this event into an excessive exercise of violence, through isolation, bullying or inefficiency to establish a proper diagnosis and therefore receive treatment.

The concept of abnormality

At present, several criteria are considered for “classifying” a behavior that is different from the “normal” one (Halguin & Krauss, 2004):

  • Disturbance: It is the experience of physical or emotional pain. Sometimes the level of pain is so great that the person has a hard time working. Psychological pain, such as deep depression or intense anxiety, is so great that some people cannot cope with the tasks of daily life.
  • Deterioration: It implies a reduction in the person's ability to function at an optimal level or even at an average level. In many circumstances intense disturbance leads to a reduction in the person's ability to function; However, there are also situations in which the person's functioning is poor, but he does not feel disturbed.
  • Risk for others and for oneself: Sometimes people generate a risk for themselves or others. In this context, risk refers to a danger or a threat to the well-being of a person.
  • Unacceptable social and cultural behavior: is the behavior that is outside the norms of the social and cultural context where it happens.

In order to explain each of the causes of the abnormality, its causes are generally taken as a reference: biological, genetic, biochemical, psychological, sociocultural and nowadays of neurosciences. The multifactorial etiology of mental illnesses would require interdisciplinary work involving many specialists, who are not in schools. And, in the first instance, children with some type of condition are detected by the teacher, but it is not necessarily so.

Teachers can observe a different behavior which in general is associated with problem children, who do not do their activities, who do not obey limits, who are too nervous, who are attacked or who attack, who are quiet, or too loud, who present precocious sexual behavior, which distract their partners, but where there is no possibility of establishing a kind of initial diagnosis, especially if this is communicated to parents and they take it as an offense and it simply strains the relationships between all and interrupts a possible diagnosis and subsequent care.

WHO's point of view

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not just the absence of conditions or diseases" (WHO, 2013).

Some global health considerations allow us to identify that mental health is part of integral health, and psychological medicine is part of general medicine.

It is estimated that neuropsychiatric disorders represent 14% of the global weight of diseases in the world (De la Fuente & Heinze, 2015). During the course of his life the human being faces internal and external changes, balances and imbalances. Some of them cause the appearance of immediate and mediated psychopathological problems. It is of particular interest to emphasize the periods that correspond to childhood and adolescence because they are still considered as the basis for understanding various problems that are reflected in these stages, but also in adulthood.. Although not all difficulties or psychotrauma (divorce of the parents, death of a relative or a pet, an accident or illness in the family, change of school or address, sexual harassment or abuse, drug use of children or of parents and more) they will become mental illnesses, unfortunately in other cases they will be.

Mental disorders refer to significant alterations in cognitive, emotional, behavioral, language and communication functioning, and even in their ability to relate to their surroundings. There is a wide variety of mental disorders and its prevalence in countries is increasing. People who suffer from some type of mental disorder go through certain difficulties in the social, economic, educational and health fields, difficulties that violate their human rights.

Teachers face this type of situation in their classroom, without being aware of the huge number of variables related to the mental health conditions of their students, because they are at best oriented to educational attention and challenge It represents showing meaningful learning in the classroom. A part of this great challenge can be reversed by creating some manuals with information on mental disorders of children or adolescents to distribute to teachers and parents or even informative conferences.

Developmental Disorders

There are a lot of mental illnesses in specialized manuals. However, those listed below only appear for the first time at birth, during childhood or in early youth. And, unfortunately in some cases they are a reason for new diseases to appear in their comorbidity. In some cases, they simply cannot be reversed. Others may have an intervention by specialists achieving the full incorporation of patients into their daily lives resulting in a functional life, provided they are accompanied by early care.

A personality disorder It implies a maladaptive and lasting pattern of internal experience and behavior, dating from adolescence or young adulthood, and manifesting in at least two of the following areas: 1) cognition, 2) affectivity 3) interpersonal operation and 4) impulse control.

  • Cognitive deficit
  • Penetrating Developmental Disorders
  • Asperger's disorder
  • Autism
  • Learning, communication and motor skills disorders
  • Attention deficit and disruptive behavior disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Challenging and oppositional disorder
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Other disorders that originate in childhood
  • Childhood Eating Disorders
  • Tics disorders
  • Elimination disorders
  • Reactive attachment disorder
  • Stereotyped Movement Disorder
  • Selective mutism (Halgin & Krauss, 2004)

As can be seen only in disorders that correspond to those related to child development, childhood and adolescence, the classification is very broad, which contains three aspects of great importance in its analysis: etiology (the origin of the disease), diagnosis (symptoms and signs that occur in a disease) and treatment (therapeutic or medicinal intervention methods).

Inclusive education

Worldwide, education is considered a right and not a privilege. From my point of view it is important to continue making great efforts because no one is left out of education as a right, but there is still a lot of work ahead, because it implies taking a great synergy to unify, understand and transform the participation of all those involved In this great work.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations System (UN), defines inclusive education as: Inclusion is seen as the process of identifying and responding to the diversity of the needs of all students through greater participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion in education. It involves changes and modifications in content, approaches, structures and strategies, with a common vision that includes all children of the appropriate age range and the conviction that it is the responsibility of the regular system to educate all children. It is based on the principle that each child has different characteristics, interests, abilities and learning needs and should be the educational systems that are designed, and the educational programs put in place, taking into account the wide diversity of these characteristics and needs It deals with providing relevant responses to the full range of educational needs in pedagogical contexts in schools and extracurricular schools (Inclusive Education, 2006). It will be necessary in the Educational Reforms of each country to incorporate a section oriented to the attention of mental illnesses and their training to teachers, students and parents.

Final reflection

Understanding the relationship between education and mental health is a titanic task that requires understanding each and every one of the protagonists involved. To become aware of the huge amount of information in these two great areas of knowledge, as well as understanding the black holes of each of the areas involved, will be a first step to move forward in shaping more realistic and effective strategies to understand this reality today for amorphous moments, and for others hopeful to achieve the incorporation of healthier people into our society.


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