Students going online for help

In recent years, it has become more common for young people to look online for help with their mental health, rather than seek answers in the classroom. Nevertheless, teachers can still play a vital role in providing students with the tools they need to support their mental health. However, it can be tough for teachers and carers to know how best to provide that support. It is important, therefore, to try and understand why and where young people are going online to seek help.

Student sits looking at computer

Why are students seeking help online?

Even in the most supportive environment, where stigma is removed as much as possible, it can still be difficult, or even frightening, for anyone, let alone a student, to seek help for their mental health issues. Some common reasons for students going online include:

  • Guaranteed anonymity: Students may feel embarrassed to admit that they want support.

  • Starting the journey: When the young person doesn’t know what’s going on, searching online might help them to identify words that describe how they are feeling.

  • Perceived judgement or stigma: Even in scenarios where there is adequate support, they may still feel they are being judged. Online resources can help reduce the stigma and free them of this feeling.

  • Lack of services: Support in their local area may be ad hoc or unavailable, so going online can be a way to access services regularly.

Where are students seeking help online?

Each student's online help-seeking behaviour will be different. Some may seek out general information on what they are going through or on their mental health, while others may be looking for more direct forms of support.

Here are some websites they may be going to already that you can look at to help you understand the help they may be seeking:

  • General health (e.g. HealthDirect, Head to Health): These websites provide government links to information and resources on mental health. They are broad and helpful and can highlight what is available to young people online.

  • Mental health (e.g. ReachOut, Beyond Blue, LifeLine, Kids Helpline): These websites provide more tailored assistance, in the form of targeted articles and clips, research, and opportunities for both immediate online counselling and telephone options. They tend to categorise sections of their websites into cultural groups and age brackets, allowing users a more tailored experience.

  • Forums (e.g. ReachOut forums, SANE forums): These websites are interactive, with students and other users asking and answering questions. Be mindful to ensure the website is moderated and provides trustworthy information, as unmoderated information may be inaccurate.

How can you help them on their mental health journey?

Start the conversation

Although it can be daunting to start the conversation about mental health in the classroom, it is probably even more daunting for your students. Consider appropriate timings such as after class and ensure the conversation is inline with school policies and procedures. This will let them know that you are there for them, and it may even help them to understand what they’re going through.

Promote trusted mental health websites

Talk openly about available services, and publicly display information about services to access whenever students feel they need help.

Create supportive spaces

It’s important to be there for your students. Even if they are seeking online help, they may also need to talk with someone close to them who knows them well, and your availability and help could be invaluable.

Do your research

By being well versed in the various services that exist, you’ll not only show your students that you care about them, but will also be able to provide guidance on helpful, appropriate and accurate websites to visit.

Show empathy

Put yourself in their shoes. School can be both an amazing and an incredibly stressful time in a student’s life. By listening to them, you may better understand why they might be feeling the way they do and how best to help them.

What can I do now?

  • Use our classroom resources on mental health and social media with your students.

  • Learn more about mental health issues and students.

  • Check out the ReachOut forums.