Where are you on the mental health continuum?

A mental health continuum is a scale with two extreme ends. It shows where a child or teenager is regarding their well-being. At one end of the continuum, flourishing is coded in blue and represents optimal mental health functioning where a person feels optimistic and works well with others. 

In the middle of the spectrum, you’ll get children and teenagers who are “going OK”. People on this spectrum have good mental health and experience minimal anxiety or stress. They can complete their tasks without the assistance of others and are generally happy. 

Closer to the middle of the continuum there is the “struggling” range which may spark concern for educators. This is when people, particularly young children, show signs of distress such as anxiety or the inability to concentrate for long periods. This will have a slight impact on the person’s overall behaviour, ability to maintain relationships, and learning abilities. These experiences may be the following: 

  • Part of the development stage for children when growing up 
  • A reaction to a challenging experience or not being able to adapt to change 
  • The early signs of a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression

On the far right of the continuum, there is the “severe impact on everyday activities” range. This is where children or teenagers experience distressing thoughts and feelings that cause them to struggle with basic daily tasks such as doing homework or even showering. 

Shifting back and forth on the continuum 

Typically, children move from one side of the continuum to the other during their development stages. A child’s mental health may change in response to experiences and stresses of life. However, there are several internal and external factors that will determine where someone will land on the mental health continuum. 

The majority of children are on the flourishing side 

Most of the time, children and adolescents are on the flourishing end of the continuum. A teacher’s everyday role is to encourage children toward the flourishing side of the scale. Their purpose is to ensure children have stable academic, social, and emotional development while they learn. 

On the other hand, children and teenagers may start showing changes in their behavioural patterns, challenges with learning, and difficulties in their relationships. These are signs that children or adolescents are moving toward the “struggling” or “severely impacting” side of the continuum. 

Since educators are one of the most fundamental adult figures in a child’s life, noticing these changes can make a significant difference to their mental health. Helping children with their challenges can improve their mental well-being and shift them back to the positive side of the continuum. 

The importance of the development stage and context 

It’s crucial to consider a young person’s age when looking at where they could be on the continuum. At a certain age, people will have a wide range of behavioural patterns and emotions that are present at different stages of development. For example, a teenager may be going through emotional ups and downs due to puberty. 

Furthermore, you must consider the context of these behavioural and emotional patterns because there could be external factors affecting someone’s mental health. When someone has to deal with difficult situations certain behavioural reactions and emotions are to be expected. Therefore, it’s not always a sign of a mental disorder, but simply someone trying to cope with difficult circumstances. 

Emotions, behaviours, and thought patterns are also influenced by various situations including: 

  • Cultural backgrounds 
  • Temperament 
  • Learning disabilities 
  • Physical disabilities 
  • Home life 
  • Illnesses 

It can be difficult to know whether a child is in fact on the negative side of the continuum. However, determining their age and the context of their emotional and behavioural patterns can assist you. It will take time to understand where the child may be on the continuum so it will require patience. 

It’s not your responsibility to diagnose a child’s mental health 

The role of a mental health professional is to diagnose children or adolescents with regard to their mental well-being. But as an educator, the continuum is a guide to assist you in determining where a child or teenager may be on the scale. Additionally, the continuum improves your understanding of mental health and provides you with the tools to take action depending on where they are in the range. 

As an educator, your sole purpose is to ensure your students stay at the positive end of the continuum by assisting them with their struggles. By monitoring your children you’ll know when they’ve shifted from one end of the continuum to the other. You’ll also need support when you’re experiencing difficulties with your students that may need assistance from a professional healthcare practitioner. 

To determine where your students are mentally, the mental health continuum is completed by the BETLS Observation Tool. This is essentially a template for collecting and documenting information about a young person. By using this tool you can determine where your student is on the mental health continuum. 

Mental Health Continuum

BELTS Observation Tool