Why is summer break good for students’ mental health?

Breaks are necessary. Not just for students to perform at their best academically, but for their wellbeing.

Today, student mental health concerns are high. Unhealthy social media usage, friendships, home environments, and more, all contribute to the increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric concerns present in 1 in 7 adolescents.

At-risk students can greatly benefit from summer break, provided that they’re equipped with a strong plan, resources, and some know-how. On the contrary, for some students, summer break has the potential to exacerbate existing mental health concerns.

Student mental health at a glance

Adolescent mental health is a global issue, as one in seven individuals aged 10-19 suffers from a mental disorder — accounting for 13% of the global disease burden in this demographic. Common mental health challenges during these critical years include depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders.

More specifically, 3.6% of 10-14 and 4.6% of 15-19 year-olds experience anxiety. Depression is slightly less common yet still prevalent, experienced by 1.1% of 10-14 year-olds and 2.8% of 15-19 year-olds. While these conditions are serious on their own, they can also lead to more severe concerns, including suicide.

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among older adolescents aged 15-19. The risk factors for suicide are complex and include childhood abuse, stigma against seeking help, the harmful use of alcohol, barriers to accessing care, and others. Like other forms of media, digital media can significantly influence suicide prevention efforts, either by strengthening them or undermining them.

Adolescents with mental health conditions are especially susceptible to social exclusion, stigma, and discrimination — deterring them from seeking help. They also encounter educational challenges and are at risk of engaging in behaviors detrimental to their physical health and rights. Furthermore, specific groups of adolescents, including those in difficult living conditions, those with disabilities, or those experiencing discrimination, face a heightened risk of mental health issues.

That’s to say that schools have a unique role to play in protecting their students. This is especially true considering that over 50% of all mental health disorders start before the age of 14 and the recognized effectiveness of early interventions. One way that schools can help their students is by helping them get the most out of their summer holidays, providing them with the resources and know-how they need to prioritize their mental well-being throughout the break.

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How does summer break impact mental health?

For some, summer break is their favorite time of the year. For others, it comes with challenges that can worsen their mental state. Here’s what the body of research has to say about how summer break impacts mental health.

Benefits of summer break

Research from “Shaping Summer Time Experiences” shows that summer break can have a positive impact on student mental health. Their data shows fewer mental health-related emergency visits in the summer than in other seasons. Specifically, data from more than 20,000 children under age 17 document decreased presentations to emergency departments in urban and rural areas for mental illness, substance use, or self-harm in the summer. Visits for neurotic/stress-related disorders, mood disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, and behavioral/emotional disorders also decreased from May to July and then increased in August, September, and October.

Moreover, a retrospective study from a hospital examining psychiatric emergency department visits for children and youth aged 5-18 further confirmed this seasonal trend. The study observed fewer visits during the summer months of June, July, and August.

The summer break offers a respite from various stressors, including academic pressures, the daily grind of classroom activities, extracurricular demands, and certain social pressures. These elements often contribute to a stressful school climate, which can exacerbate stress and anxiety among students. The absence of these pressures during the summer provides a necessary break from such environments, potentially improving students’ overall mental well-being.

Moreover, it’s common for children to engage in positive activities in the summertime that can improve their mental well-being. Time with loved ones, increased time outside, and engaging in hobbies or sports can all help children feel more relaxed and rejuvenated. These activities not only promote physical health but also provide essential opportunities for emotional and social development.

Drawbacks of summer break

Despite these benefits, summer break doesn’t offer a positive experience for all students.

Shaping Summer Time Experiences’ research showed that of a group of adolescents admitted to the hospital over a five-year period, including summertime, the primary reasons for mental health-related admissions were aggressive behaviors (68%) and thoughts or actions of self-harm (27%). Within the same group, frequently diagnosed conditions included anxiety disorders (28%), mood disorders (19%), and substance-related disorders (10%).

While summer break isn’t solely to blame for these conditions, it can play a role. For some, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, summer can mean a lack of access to essential services such as regular meals, healthcare, and adult supervision, which are typically provided during the school year. Naturally, this can lead to increased mental distress during these months.

Furthermore, students may be exposed to an unhealthy, emotionally unstable home environment over the summer holidays. Upon returning to school, if the educational environment is hostile and unsupportive, their susceptibility to a mental health disorder may increase.

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Tips for improving mental health over summer break

Teachers, school counselors, and other staff members are uniquely positioned to help school-aged students with their mental health. Here are five ways they can do so:

  1. Publicize support programs: Actively promote available mental health resources and summer support programs, ensuring families are aware of counseling services, helplines, and community centers that remain accessible throughout the break.
  2. Suggest summer activities: Encourage participation in structured summer programs, such as camps, workshops, and sports leagues. These activities can provide routine, social interaction, and skill development — all beneficial for mental health.
  3. Promote healthy habits: Emphasize the importance of regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and digital detox to foster physical and mental well-being.
  4. Incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL): Offer online or community-based SEL courses that continue teaching emotional intelligence skills, such as empathy, resilience, and self-regulation.
  5. Identify areas of improvement: Encourage students to reflect on their mental health state and identify specific areas they want to improve — such as stress management or communication skills — and provide resources to support these goals.

Moreover, schools can use technology to your advantage to help identify at-risk students and place safeguards to mitigate mental health risks. Content filtering tools, for example, can detect patterns in online behavior that may indicate mental health concerns, such as searches related to depression or self-harm.

You can then use this data to proactively reach out with support and resources, better preparing at-risk students for the summertime break. These resources can include personalized counseling sessions, peer support groups, and referrals to mental health professionals. This information can also lead schools to make contact with the family members of at-risk students, working alongside them to develop a support plan tailored to each student’s specific needs.

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Prepare your school district with ManagedMethods

By leveraging technology, your school can better identify at-risk students and work to decrease the alarming number of mental health concerns among adolescents.

Content Filter is a tool for schools aiming to enhance their support for student mental health. By monitoring online activities, it helps identify potential warning signs of mental distress early, enabling timely intervention.

Specifically, Content Filter employs advanced algorithms to scan and analyze students’ online behavior across school-provided devices and platforms. This includes monitoring searches, website visits, and social media inputs that may indicate the presence of issues, including cyberbullying, depression, or suicidal ideation. It’s by setting alerts for specific keywords or patterns of behavior that school administrators and counselors can receive real-time notifications about potential risks.

This system also allows for a nuanced approach to internet safety by enabling schools to tailor their monitoring based on the unique needs of their K-12 student population. For instance, schools can adjust the sensitivity of the filters during particularly stressful times, such as exam periods, or in response to troubling events within the school community.

Moreover, Content Filter integrates seamlessly with existing school systems — such as the Google Admin console — to make it easy to implement and manage. This ensures that all data remains secure and that privacy concerns are addressed, respecting the delicate balance between safeguarding students and preserving their privacy.

We also offer Cloud Monitor: This tool uses advanced AI algorithms to continuously scan and analyze activities across district-owned Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 accounts. This includes emails, documents, and shared drives, detecting signs of self-harm, cyberbullying, and other potential risks.

Cloud Monitor operates in real-time, providing immediate alerts to school administrators without the need to store or collect personal student data. And, it ensures compliance with FERPA, COPPA, and CSPC, focusing on both student safety and privacy.

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