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Mental Health: Classroom Strategies and Case studies

Disclaimer: The creators of this guide are not experts or professionals in mental health. Information and links provided in this guide are meant to serve as examples and suggestions, not as a substitute for the advice of an appropriate health care professional. The services of a competent and qualified professional, such as a physician or mental health professional, should be sought if professional advice is required. 

For additional resources and information, go to the BCTF Mental Health page  or to the entry on Mental Health in the General resource section. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • refrain from making comparisons between students’ academic performance or behaviour
  • treat students as unique individuals
  • provide a warm and supportive learning environment where mistakes are viewed as a natural part of the learning process.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • work closely with parents and medical staff to understand how to manage fear-based behaviours
  • break tasks down into small chunks
  • provide lots of positive feedback
  • engage in school related activities like clubs and sports

Links for more information: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/  


In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • be observant and know the warning signs of suicide.
  • pay attention to suspicions and trust own judgment. 

Anxiety Disorder

In the classroom, the teacher could encourage:

  • physical activity and opportunities to move around the room
  • journaling
  • breaking down assignment and test into manageable chunks
  • deep breathing (five deep breaths)
  • counting from 50 backwards

Links for more information: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/  

Case Study 1: Anxiety disorder 

Thomas, a student in Mr. Jack’s grade 4 class, is frequently absent from school. When Thomas does attend class, he expresses severe stomach pain, as well as physical pain all over his body. When Mr. Jack encourages Thomas to participate in social activities in an attempt to distract Thomas from his physical symptoms, Thomas refuses. In addition, Thomas is a high achiever who worries excessively about his homework and grades. However, his lack of attendance has not helped Thomas’s ability to keep up with his academic assignments; as a result, Thomas’s grades have been declining over the course of the school year.

Bipolar Affective Disorder

In the classroom, the teacher could become familiar with the warning signs of relapse:

  • increased energy
    • restlessness
    • rapid speech
  • racing thoughts
  • poor judgment
  • easily distracted

Case Study 2: Bipolar affective disorder 

Tanya is a grade 12 student in Mr. Rick’s Digital Art 12 class. Over the course of the last 5 months, Tanya’s attendance has become increasingly inconsistent. Some days, Tanya comes to class full of energy, confidence, and feelings of euphoria, while others she is withdrawn, sad and hopeless. Mr. Rick initially equated Tanya’s sudden shifts in mood with the pressures of graduation. However, Tanya’s extreme shifts in her affect are becoming more consistent and frequent. Mr. Rick is finding it difficult to motivate Tanya to complete even the simplest in-class assignments on days Tanya is feeling down. On days when Tanya appears up-beat and happy, Mr. Rick also has a difficult time getting Tanya to settle down and concentrate on her work.


In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • encourage self expression through journaling, drawing sport or dance
  • encourage involvement in clubs and other school based activities
  • report any expression of suicidal thought immediately
  • create a warm and welcoming classroom environment

Case Study 3: Depression 

Although Sylvia has been one of the most social, outspoken and diligent students in Ms. Lee’s grade 7 class, she returned from the Christmas break withdrawn, quiet, and low in energy. Ms. Lee initially thought that Sylvia may need just a couple of weeks to transition back to school, but Spring Break is approaching and Sylvia continues to have difficulty concentrating, staying on task and completing her homework. When Ms. Lee asks Sylvia why she is not completing her homework, Sylvia responds by saying, “I don’t know,” or “No one cares, anyway.” In addition, Sylvia has isolated herself from her peers, preferring to sit in the back of the classroom and not participating in class activities unless she is specifically called upon to do so.    

Case Study 4: Gaming Addiction and Depression  

Ryan is a grade 9 student in Mr. Stewart’s computer class who has exceptional abilities in navigating and solving complex computer equations. However, as the school year has progressed, Mr. Stewart has noticed Ryan’s motivation to complete his academic assignments decreasing to the point that Ryan is not handing in his homework. Ryan’s attendance also has become sporadic. When he shows up to class, he appears exhausted. By Spring Break, Ryan is not attending school nor is he seen socializing with his friends. When Mr. Stewart asked Ryan’s best friend if he had  seen Ryan around lately, his best friend said, “No, all Ryan wants to do is play on his computer at home…he stays up all night playing and does not want to hang out with me anymore.” 

See Glossary for information on co-morbidity and concurrent disorders.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • recognize that September can be a difficult month for such children and that a transition plan progressive in nature will need to be developed, particularly for younger children
  • involve the child in an activity which they enjoy immediately upon entering the classroom (distraction techniques)
  • model calm behavior

Case Study 5: Separation Anxiety disorder 

Ms. Harper, who teaches a grade 4 class, has become very concerned about the behavior of one of her students. Melanie has attended the school since kindergarten and has always presented as a somewhat shy, but very hardworking and conscientious student. She has a few close friends that she plays with at recess and lunch and they always seem to get along well. Schoolwork doesn’t come easily to Melanie, as she had struggled in learning to read. In class, she takes longer than most students to get her work done, but mostly this seems to be due to her tendency to get caught daydreaming or doodling. While she still receives learning support, Melanie’s strong desire to get good grades and her hardworking nature has always helped her to keep up with her schoolwork and achieve average grades on her report cards.

However, since the start of this school year, Melanie’s attitude towards school has changed. A few months ago, Melanie’s parents notified Ms. Harper that Melanie was having difficulty sleeping at night and in the mornings she was fighting with her parents, refusing to get out of her pajamas or get ready for school. Ms. Harper hasn’t notice any changes in Melanie’s behavior or attitude when she is in class; however, she is very concerned by some of the interactions she observed when Melanie’s parents would drop her off at school in the morning. She sees Melanie refusing to get out of her parents car, screaming and yelling at them. There have also been many days recently where the parents interrupted Ms. Harper’s morning lesson, hoping she could help convince Melanie to enter the class. Ms. Harper does not how to best support this student, as Melanie seems fine when she’s in class and only seems to have these disruptive outbursts with her parents.

See Glossary for concurrent disabilities.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • be generous with praise and positive reinforcement
  • set age appropriate limits with consequences and be consistent
  • take time out from a conflict—don’t engage in argument

Case Study 6: Oppositional Defiant Disorder 

Sandra, a 12 year old girl who is extremely bright and articulate, is a new student in Ms. Robinson’s grade 7 class. Her teacher Ms. Robinson is impressed by Sandra’s ability to express her ideas on paper and has noted the quality of her verbal contributions to classroom discussions. However, Ms. Robinson has also noted that Sandra cannot take “no” for an answer and often argues with her over small, insignificant requests. It seems that Sandra will argue over everything.

At first Ms. Robinson thought to herself that Sandra would make a good lawyer as she seems to have an argument for everything. But over time, Sandra’s behavior has become increasingly difficult to cope with. The other students are becoming annoyed with Sandra too, feeling that Sandra is wasting their time with her constant arguments. Sandra is becoming increasingly socially isolated, and often presents as moody, verbally lashing out at her peers. Sandra is so argumentative that on one occasion Ms. Robinson, in an attempt to speak with Sandra about her behavior, started by saying she was a bright, creative girl, but was cut short by Sandra who argued she was not a girl but was instead a tree.  

Self Harm

In the classroom, the teacher could:

  • help students to express and identify their feelings
  • be available to talk to a student to break them out of feelings of isolation, be a good listener,
  • take your cues from the student (don’t over react, self harm is not an attempt at suicide)
  • consult with your school counselor
  • let the student know that self harm is common and that they are not alone

Case Study 7: Self harm 

Ms. Brick is a grade 10 Physical Education Teacher who also coaches the senior girls’ volleyball team. Over the course of the Spring season, Ms. Brick is surprised to see Ashley still wearing long sleeve shirts underneath her volleyball jersey. When Ms. Brick approached Ashley to discuss her concerns of overheating during games, Ashley insisted she was cold and refused to remove her long sleeve shirt even though sweat was pouring down her face. Furthermore, Ashley refused to pull up her sleeves to release some of the heat that she was experiencing.

On a rare occasion when Ashley pulls up her sleeve for a brief moment, Ms. Brick notices a succession of scars along Ashley’s right inner forearm. When Ms. Brick politely asks Ashley about her scars, Ashley dismisses Ms. Brick’s concerns quickly and says that it is “nothing.”

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