May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s also the last full month of school for traditionally-scheduled districts. I think mental health is the last thing on our minds as we rush through final units, encourage students to turn in missing work, improve those failing grades to passing ones, and hope summer relieves us from this pressure. We are surviving!


Students feel the tension too, except their brains aren’t as developed as ours so it’s up to us to provide them with social-emotional learning and support for their mental health. There are infinite stories out there about taking care of our mental health, sharing stories of crisis, and surrounding family members or friends experiencing mental illnesses. Half the battle is knowing you’re not alone. We don’t want to snooze the support for mental health with our students who can’t decide how to feel better or to thrive just because we are all exhausted. 


Even if students don’t pick up entire books, there are passages, chapters, or snippets that provide glimpses into lives that might look like theirs or provide guidance for their struggles such as You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven.


Speaking of sharing stories to provide direction and relation, May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Sharing mental health stories with AAPI main characters provides double the opportunity to raise awareness. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi deals with a cancer diagnosis in a relationship between two sisters that fades over years apart and is reestablished under these scary circumstances. 


Reading others’ stories and sharing our own not only helps with loneliness in crisis, but also allows others to understand what mental health struggles look like, and to bridge the gap.


Have students reflect on how social media affects mental health. Download the lesson below!


Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.