Lesson Plan Guide: Mental Illness


Become aware of signs of possible distress, depression and mental illness
Identify healthy habits to prevent and manage mental illnesses


ASCA Improve Academic Self-Concept
ASCA Develop and Apply Self-Knowledge
CCSS Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Paper and Pencil
Marker and Class Board
Student Paths article, “Mental health issues: Be honest and supportive when helping a friend with mental health issues”


National Institute of Mental Health
Positive Psychology Program


1. Intro (5 minutes)

A “Tool of Positive Psychology” is a way for a person to redirect attention from negative emotions toward positive engagement in purposeful activities that promote well-being in their life. Everyone experiences times of high and low stress, high and low motivation; however, we experience them differently. In a few minutes, we are going to learn how to write a kind letter of critical advice to ourselves. The Self-Compassion Letter is a kind letter to ourselves to explain how we are connected to all of humanity and mindful of our reactions to specific emotions. When we write this letter, we teach ourselves to be kind and critical to develop social and emotional skills to manage mental illness. This is a private, personal letter to ourselves.

The goal of this lesson is for every student to be slightly more confident in the ability to be aware, prevent and respond to behavior tendencies that may trigger depression, substance abuse, anxiety, eating disorders, and other challenges faced during adolescence. Each person must learn how to develop their own healthy, positive ways of managing emotions in life. This lesson focuses attention on observing signs of depression and then using the tool of Self-Compassion Letter to provide positive, reflective self-encouragement to manage emotions and maintain mental well-being.

2. Read Student Paths

Student silently read the article, “Mental health issues: Be honest and supportive when helping a friend with mental health issues.”

3. Identify Signs and Symptoms of Depression (10 minutes)

We may have heard of depression, but let’s see what we know. We need 2 volunteers to write a list on the board for the class. Let us write a list of the signs and symptoms of depression. What are signs of depression? How does someone suffering from depression behave?

The goal of this lesson is to become aware of symptoms of depression, not to self diagnose a medical condition. Remember, everyone, every classmate, friend, and family member may exhibit signs of depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, or codependency at some time during life, this does not mean any of them suffer a mental illness. Managing emotions, stress and depression are skills each person must develop for themselves in life. We all may behave a certain way in reaction to a stress in life for a given time. The key is for each student to learn how to manage and regulate one’s feelings each day by developing healthy personal habits and social networks of supportive people.

Volunteers, please highlight and revise our list as we go. Let us maintain our class language while inserting higher level vocabulary from the medical doctors.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that exhibiting at least 2 of the following behaviors, every day for 2 weeks is a possible sign of depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Volunteers, let us cross out any ideas we had about depression that do fit this list from the National Institute of Mental Health

Remember the difference between an “acute” observation time and a “chronic” depression that is experienced over 2 years. Mental illness and depression have recently come to public attention through popular movies and songs. Mental illness is more common, but not everyone knows about it, so reach out to a parent, counselor or doctor to find support for yourself or friend.

4. Write a Self-Compassion Letter (15 minutes)

The goal of this reflecting and writing activity is to improve our own self awareness. There is no need to talk as that distracts others, so it is important to notice what can distract you from making specific, critical, compassionate observations about your life.

This activity includes 2 parts. First, each student lists specific behaviors and sources of support. Second, students write a letter of advice to themselves to improve upon critical behaviors. You are the only person that will read this letter. It is most effective to write the truth from a voice of compassion. This activity will spark further learning, so you are encouraged to continue this activity outside of class.

Part A: Make 2 Lists:

  • Write 5 specific behaviors in your life that you could improve. Be critical, but kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, but we become better by learning from our mistakes.
  • Write 5 names of specific people and/or groups that you belong to help you connect to all human beings.

Part B: Write a Self-Compassion Letter

Write a letter to yourself and give yourself advice. Be kind, connect to others, and be mindful to be accurate in every sentence you write. Focus for 10 minutes to write yourself a truthful, kind letter on how to improve yourself this month. Below are examples of reflective insights and advice students have shared. These are examples of high quality insight and advice because they state specific behaviors to be improved and how they will be improved.

When I give my all into the 400 meter race, this is a different pride and satisfaction than cheering for my teammate to do the same in the 200 meter race on the Track & Field team. Our coach says we run faster when we cheer one another on, so starting today, I will begin to cheer my teammates who are cheering on others. Cheer for the cheerleaders!

My friend Rosie provides me with a great perspective because she also has a religious family that struggles to afford rent. We are just friends, but sometimes I feel a crush. After school, I allow her to distract me from my homework and other chores. I will make 3:30-3:45 my snack time to eat and talk with friends before I check-in for math help with Mr. Xu.

5. Motivational Phrase Before Exit (5 minutes)

Writing a letter to yourself is an effective way to manage priorities in life. We wrote a Self-Compassion Letter today to focus on specific behaviors to be improved. We will conclude this activity by folding the letter to focus our attention on what is most important. So, take a minute to read your letter of advice to yourself. Then, fold the paper and write a phrase that motivates you to do the most important actions that you advise.


Cheer for teammates who are cheering
Friends at 3:30 and Math at 3:45

Mental health issues