Student Anxiety is an Epidemic in the Classroom: What Teachers Can Do

Student anxiety can have a huge effect on a student’s future if it isn’t addressed properly.

The Dangers of Student Anxiety

Take Jeremy for example. It was looking like Jeremy’s only ticket out of the inner city was basketball. He was a star on the court and though intelligent, he spent little time on his studies.

Jeremy had been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and ended up spending more time in the bathroom than in his classes during the school day.

The school guidance counselor informed him that if he didn’t raise his grades he would be kicked off of the basketball team; the only thing he really cared about. As time passed Jeremy’s grades remained poor and he was removed from the team. By the end of the school year he had failed every course except one.

Schools Often Lack Proper Training for Helping Students with Anxiety

Unfortunately this isn’t a rare occurrence for students who suffer from anxiety. Teachers and schools lack the proper training that is needed to work effectively with students who deal with cognitive disorders, like anxiety, and it can take a major toll on the students’ futures.

The Current Mental Health Landscape

The anxiety epidemic is rampant across the nation, especially in schools. Children and young adults are more anxious now than ever before.

In a 2019 study done by Pew Research Center, 70% of teenagers surveyed stated that anxiety and depression were major problems among their peers. In fact, teens ranked anxiety and depression as the number one issue despite other problems such as drug addiction, bullying, alcohol abuse, poverty, teen pregnancy and gangs. On top of this, another 26% of teens surveyed still recognized anxiety and depression as minor problems.

Anxiety Can Affect Anyone and Can Start Early

Student anxiety doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of gender, race and socioeconomic status it is the number one issue teens are facing in the US.

However, it can start as young as four years old according to Marty Davis, a kindergarten teacher in Utah. “We expect so much from them, and they feel the pressure,” says Davis. “They’re like ‘I can’t!’ and I’m like, ‘I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!’ (like “The Little Engine That Could”.)

At La Plata High School in southern Maryland, Kathy Reamy, school counselor and chair of the NEA School Counselor Caucus, comments “Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues than ever.”

Reamy attributes student anxiety to factors including social media, pressure to perform and fit in, along with feeling unsafe due to the recent gun violence taking place in schools.

Rate of Anxiety Has Been Increasing for 7 Years

The rise of anxiety has been climbing steadily for seven years and it remains the top complaint among college students, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Unfortunately, anxiety can be crippling and tends to impact students’ academic and professional performance, social lives and general well-being. Several common side effects students encounter include constant feelings of dread and unease, regular panic attacks, headaches, stomach issues, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Without Effective Treatment Students Often Try Self-Medication (Drugs)

Dealing with these side effects on a daily or weekly basis can be extremely taxing and it often leads to many teens attempting to “self-medicate” with drugs and alcohol in order to dull their anxiety. While this may provide students temporary relief, these actions only lead to serious problems down the line. It’s a vicious cycle that teachers and school staff nationwide are struggling to change.

Lack of Trained Educators Takes a Serious Toll

While school counselors do their best to help students deal with anxiety in healthy ways such as deep breathing techniques and lifestyle changes, the student per counselor ratio makes it nearly impossible for counselors to find time to help each child in need.

With more and more students seeking out help for mental health issues, there are typically 491 students per counselor, according to the national average. There just aren’t enough counselors to provide attention to each student.

This exemplifies how crucial it is for teachers and all school staff to receive proper training in mental health, not just school counselors. There are only three states in the US that meet the recommended student-to-counselor ratio, which is 250 students-to-1 counselor.

Why Are Students So Anxious?

Performance Anxiety is a Major Contributor

Student anxiety can stem from a number of factors, but one of the most common things is the constant pressure to achieve. By eighth grade students are already taking SATs. With the increase in college competitiveness, students are constantly fearful of not being “good enough”. 61% of students surveyed said they feel pressured to get good grades.

Smartphones and Social Media

Along with the pressure to perform academically, smartphones and social media add another layer of anxiety to the daily lives of students. The constant stimulation and access to what their peers are doing can be extremely negative and can lead to comparison and “FOMO”: fear of missing out.

5+ Hours Per Day Online Linked with Suicide

Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University professor, published a paper with her colleagues in Clinical Psychological Science in 2017. They found that teens who “spent five or more hours a day online were 71% more likely than those who spent only one hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide).”

It’s no surprise that there is a correlation between the amount of time spent online and suicide risk factors. Teens online are often found saying things they would never say to someone face to face. For example, phrases like “you should kill yourself” are thrown around carelessly. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 – 34. The anxiety epidemic in schools begs for a solution.

With the spiking rise of anxiety, depression and suicide rates among students, thankfully the conversation around mental health is beginning to open up.

Although factors such as social media and pressure to achieve most likely won’t change anytime soon, this doesn’t mean students should be left to “deal with it”.

Though situations like Jeremy’s, mentioned earlier, are far too common in schools across the US, there is an answer.

Student Mental Health Training and Certification: Addressing Anxiety, Depression, and 7 Other Conditions

IBCCES is offering new Student Mental Health Training and Certification programs. IBCCES surveyed thousands of school administrators and special education directors across the nation. The results were clear -there is a demand for a student mental health training for teachers and other education specialists.

The Student Mental Health Specialist training (SMHS) and the Student Mental Health Certification (SMHC) were designed not to replace school counselors, but to enable classroom teachers and other staff who interact with students daily to be able to identify students in need of assistance and refer them to a counselor or specialist as well as manage the related behavioral issues in the classroom that may accompany mental health concerns. The unique combination of the training and certification offers educators a huge leg up when it comes to feeling confident in handling students with mental health challenges.

What is a Student Mental Health Specialist?

A Student Mental Health Specialist™ is defined as “a professional who is responsible for the support and/or services provided to an individual with cognitive disorders that directly relates to the professional’s specific scope of practice.”

The 9 Areas of Competency for SMHC and SMHS programs

The IBCCES SMHS and SMHC programs provide training in nine major concentrations: anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavior modifications, suicide, IEP and program development, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, OCD and traumatic brain injury. After taking this certification, educators will be well versed in best practices for how to both detect and interact with students who may have these disorders. This can help them to manage their classrooms better, understand their students better, improve performance of affected students, and help them know when it is appropriate to refer a student to the school counselor to get further assistance.

Are You a Good Fit to Become a Student Mental Health Specialist?

Any educator with one of the following background is encouraged to apply to the SMHS program:

  • Special Education Directors
  • Student Services Directors
  • Principals & Assistant Principals
  • Behavior Specialists
  • Special & General Education Teachers
  • Deans/Disciplinary Staff
  • Speech-Language Pathologists
  • Occupational Therapists

Similarly, a Student Mental Health Certificate (SMHC) is appropriate for anyone with one of the following backgrounds:

  • General Education Teachers
  • Special Education Teachers
  • Paraprofessionals
  • Administrative Personnel
  • Support Staff
  • Behavior Specialists
  • School Nurse
  • Secretary

Now more than ever, it’s essential that teachers and staff are prepared and ready to handle students who have mental health issues, like anxiety. IBCCES found that 81% of students with anxiety responded favorably to teacher intervention. It’s completely possible for educators to receive proper training and IBCCES makes it easy and accessible.

Programs Created By Specialists in Cognitive Disorders and Education

The SMHS and SMHC programs were developed by a board of top experts including master educators, international education leaders, Tier 1 University researchers and clinical professionals. The programs provide a holistic, systematic approach for schools to follow in order to properly handle the student mental health crisis. The training and certification are relevant and include techniques and strategies that can be implemented in classrooms immediately.

Isabel, a school superintendent in California, speaks on the importance of programs such as the certifications IBCCES offers. She says, “In most schools, mental health certification is reserved for a social worker or guidance counselor. Yet 99.9% of student contact time everyday is with a teacher, bus driver or coach. Our number one priority should be to train and equip our front line staff to deal with this crisis.”

Educators who complete the training and certification will be able to provide support and resources to their students and families while helping to enhance the overall school experience, learning outcomes and environment. The SMHS and SMHC programs provide access to best practices and the most current research, which allows teachers and staff to quickly and accurately recognize a student in need and take appropriate, effective action.

Not only will educators leave the training and certification feeling confident and equipped to confront student mental health issues, but they will be able to provide credibility and recognition for their staff, school and district.

Is Training or Certification Right for You? Take the Next Steps

If you’re eligible for the training and/or certification programs this is your time to create necessary change. With IBCCES’ easy process, you and your school can become leaders in taking an effective stance on dealing with student mental health issues.


Take advantage of the SMHS and SMHC programs. When educators are properly trained in mental health not only do they receive the benefits, but so do the students, their families, the school district and the community as a whole.

Become a part of the ripple effect and change the way schools respond to mental health.

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