Concerned about student mental health? How wellness is related to academic achievement

Schools have made it a priority to support student mental health. It was so even before the increase in signs of child and youth mental illness during and after the pandemic.

It is vital to support student mental health because stressors can negatively impact their wellbeing and lead to mental illness diagnoses.

Some have suggested that we can either promote academic success or mental wellbeing and that mental well-being is more significant than academic achievement.

Can and should be supported in both academic success and mental well-being because they are interdependent.

I am a former school psychologist and a researcher of school-based mental illness. It is clear to me that the best way to support mental wellbeing is to encourage academic development. This should be done early on in a child’s education.

Wellbeing in Education

Well-being in educational settings includes all aspects of student’s lives: cognitive, social, and psychological functioning.

Schools, educators, and education policymakers must focus on the holistic well-being of students rather than focusing on one aspect at the expense of other areas.

Research shows that mental health and well-being are predicted by early academic performance. The majority of research demonstrating this link between academic success and mental health is focused on reading.

Research shows that early academic achievement predicts mental wellbeing and health. (Allison Shelley/EDUimages), CC-BY-NC

Recent reports by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as well as Saskatchewan Human Rights commissions, have highlighted how important it is to provide students with a strong reading program for their academic success, self-confidence, and engagement.

Read more: Reading disabilities are a human rights issue — Saskatchewan joins calls to address barriers.

Stronger reading abilities, positive outcomes

Reading skills can increase positive outcomes for students. Readers who are more satisfied in their lives report that they are better readers.

They will have less anxiety and depression symptoms later. Teachers rate students who have strong reading skills as more prosocial and with fewer behavior problems.

They also have a higher emotional intelligence and show more empathy. These positive outcomes are linked to the development of reading skills, which is an important indicator of academic success.

Poorer reading skills will lead to worse outcomes.

Poor reading skills can lead to poorer outcomes. Weak Readers In Early Grades are More Likely to Have Behavioral Problems Later. They have a poorer self-concept and self-control and have difficulty in relationshipsAnxiety, shameDepressionDelinquency and suicidality.

Poor readers are more likely than students who leave school to be involved in the criminal justice system. It is especially telling that the best way to prevent youth from reoffending is to educate them to read.

Dyslexia is a common disorder among students.

The link between dyslexia, poor mental health, and wellbeing reveals how academic success is interconnected with mental health. Students with dyslexia who have difficulty reading also have more trouble making friends. Having friends is a vital part of mental wellbeing.

They also have lower self-esteem and are more likely to be bullied. Dyslexia is associated with an increased risk of anxiety, behavioral problems, and depression.

Reading instruction, equity, and wellbeing

Students from economically depressed backgrounds also face a greater risk of poor mental health and not being able to read well.

Researchers Joan F. Beswick and Elizabeth A. Sloat argue that access to quality reading instruction is an issue of social justice. And other findings show that students in poorer neighborhoods are less likely to get adequate reading instruction. It puts them at a higher risk of mental health issues that can reduce their well-being.

Syrian refugee children participate in an activity during a school camp designed to help refugee youth adjust to Canadian culture and prepare for school. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Academic success and mental health are not only related to reading in elementary school. Students who excel academically have better mental health.

Two-way relationship

It is still important to remember that there is a bidirectional relationship between mental health and academic success.

According to research, mental problems, such as behavior issues, can affect academic performance.

The relationship between academic achievement and mental health will likely be complex, with both low performance and excessive competition to achieve high grades contributing to poor mental well-being. Academic performance and mental wellbeing are both affected by each other, either positively or negatively.


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