Protecting Teen Mental Health | Facing History & Ourselves
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Protecting Teen Mental Health

Learn about some of the factors impacting teen mental health and actions we can take to promote wellbeing.


At a Glance

mini-lesson copy


English — US


  • Advisory
  • English & Language Arts
  • Social Studies


  • Human & Civil Rights


About This Mini-Lesson

Depression, self-harm, and suicide rates have all been rising among adolescents and young adults over the last decade. This mini-lesson helps students understand some of the causes of this trend, generate ideas for protecting mental health, explore the relationship between following the news and mental health, and consider ideas for how schools can promote student’s wellbeing. Each activity can be used on its own or taught in any combination best suited to your students.

This mini-lesson is designed to be adaptable. You can use the activities in sequence or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 3 activities
  • Student-facing slides
  • 1 Reading

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Consider checking in with mental health providers or counselors at your school for  resources students can access if they are struggling with their own mental health and recommendations for the best way to share this information with students. These resources can include school services, local programs, or free mental health hotline numbers, such as the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

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Begin by sharing the following information with your students, which can also be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson:

The topic of teen mental health has been in the news, since research shows that rates of depression, self-harm, and suicide have increased in children and young adults over the last decade. Between 2011 and 2021, the rates of clinical depression among teenagers and young adults in the United States more than doubled. The causes of mental health issues are complex and difficult to research. This activity introduces some of the factors that help to explain the downward trend, but the causes of mental health struggles vary widely for individuals.

Then, ask your students to reflect on the following prompt in their journals:

Why do you think more teens are struggling with mental health issues like depression or anxiety now than a decade ago?

Explain to your students that they will explore some of the potential causes of the downward trend in mental health through a Big Paper activity. Divide your students into groups and give each group one section of the reading: What Might Be Causing Mental Health Issues in Teens? and a large piece of paper to write on. Students should write their responses to the section they read on the large paper, using the following questions as a guide:

  • What questions do you have about this information?
  • Does any of the information resonate with you?
  • Do you disagree with any of the conclusions or have another perspective you want to offer?
  • In light of this information, what actions do you think young people, parents, or lawmakers could take to help promote mental health?

Once students have finished reading and reflecting on their section, have them rotate to read the other sections and written reflections. They can add their own responses as well.

Finally, ask your students to share some of their reflections on the information with the class.

Share the following excerpt from the American Psychological Association article ​​Media overload is hurting our mental health. Here are ways to manage headline stress, which can also be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson:

In today’s hypercompetitive and incessant news delivery ecosystem, slightly more than half of U.S. adults report that they get their news through social media “often” or “sometimes,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted from August 31 to September 7, 2020. To drive “clickbait,” news coverage and social media postings also tend to highlight the more negative or dramatic news.

This leads to suffering from, as [psychologist Don] Grant describes it, “media saturation overload,” and he is not the only mental health professional noticing this specialized type of stress. Similar terms that have emerged recently include “doomscrolling,” “headline anxiety,” and “headline stress disorder.” While these terms are newer, the psychological strain of living through and absorbing dismal news is by no means confined to recent years. But lately, said Grant and other psychologists, the steady drumbeat of headlines and related social media commentary has been without pause: an ongoing pandemic, racial injustice, climate change, election controversy, mass shootings, and the list extends onward.

Ask your students to discuss the following questions in groups of 3-4:

  • What do your own news habits look like? 
  • Do you feel in control of the way you encounter news? Why or why not? 

Then, share the following suggestions with your students for developing healthy news habits:

  1. Look for ways to act
    If there are trends in the news you find upsetting, see if you can find a way to make a difference on the issue, even in a small way. For example, you can find local organizations working on an aspect of the issue and volunteer.
  2. Set boundaries around your news consumption
    Staying informed about the world is important, but you don’t need to read headlines continuously if you find them stressful. It can be helpful to designate times you will read the news and times when you will take a break or pause notifications.
  3. Look for positive stories
    Many headlines highlight the negative. If there are issues you can about, research what programs are already in place that can help make a difference on the issue.

Then, ask your students to respond to the following prompt in their journals:

What do you want your routine for following the news to look like?

Finally, ask students to choose one action related to healthy news habits to share with the class using the Wraparound strategy.

In the Merrimack College Teacher Survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, teachers were asked what changes their schools could make to promote student’s mental health. Share the results of the survey with your students, which can be found in the Slides for this mini-lesson.

Then, ask your students to discuss the following question in groups of 3-4:

  • Which of the measures listed do you think would make the most difference for students and why?
  • Are there any ideas that you would omit from the list? Why?
  • What additional ideas, if any, would you add to this list?

Finally, ask each group to share their top two suggestions with the class, and create a list with all the ideas.

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