A high school teacher came up with a brilliant way to talk to her students about mental health, and it’s going viral

High school teacher Erin Castillo designed a mental health check-in chart to talk to her students about how they're doing.

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High school teacher Erin Castillo designed a mental health check-in chart to talk to her students about how they’re doing.
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Courtesy of Erin Castillo

  • High school teacher Erin Castillo designed a chart that enables students to discretely indicate how they’re feeling and if they’d like a check-in about their mental health.
  • Castillo told INSIDER that she wanted students to have a nonverbal way of seeking support and see that they’re not alone if they’re struggling.
  • The Facebook page Suicide Awareness/Prevention shared a photo of the mental health check-in chart for students that’s going viral.

In kindergarten classrooms around the US, students can choose what greeting they would like to receive when they arrive by pointing to different symbols affixed to a wall. Some like getting hugs or handshakes. Others prefer a wave or verbal “hello.”

A Bay Area high school teacher came up with an innovative way to incorporate a similar concept in her classroom to check in with her students about their mental health.

English special education teacher Erin Castillo (@makingastatementinsped on Instagram) created a chart concept with sections ranging from “I’m great” and “I’m okay” to “I’m having a hard time and wouldn’t mind a check-in” and “I’m in a really dark place.”

Students can write their name on the back of a sticky note and place it in whatever section that best describes how they’re feeling without their names being visible

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Made this mental health check in chart after seeing @missjohnstonsjourney use a digital version for teachers on her #okayteacher Facebook page. I asked my students to write their names on the back of a post-it note so I could check in with ones in the bottom two sections. I explained the green section as them struggling, but speaking to another adult or trying to work through it themselves. ••• I was able to start some check ins today, and holy cow these kids. I love them. My heart hurts for them. High school is rough sometimes, but I was happy that a few were given a safe space to vent and work through some feelings. ••• I also like that students could visually see that they aren’t alone in their struggles. It was a beautiful minimum day focusing on self care and mental health. ••• ????UPDATE: just added a printable version with detail instructions so you can do this in your classroom! It’s FREE!???? • • • #mentalhealthawareness #highschoolteacher #secondaryela #teacherorganization #teachings #anchorcharts #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers #teachersfollowingteachers #iteachtoo #teachertips #weareteachers #teacherspayteachers #teacherideas #teachingideas #specialeducationteacher #teacherlove #teach #weteachsped #teacher #iteachhighschool #elateacher #teachergoals #igteacher #igteachers #teachersofig

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Castillo told INSIDER that in the past five years of teaching high school, she’s had a number of students who have attempted suicide. She designed the chart to give students a nonverbal, anonymous way to seek support. She also wanted them to be able to see in the placement of the notes that they’re not the only ones in any particular category.

“So many people think they’re the only ones struggling,” she said. “Kids need to hear that they’re not alone and what that support looks like.”

When she saw how well the chart was working in her classroom, she created a free digital resource for other teachers to incorporate the chart and talking points about it into their classrooms on Teachers Pay Teachers.

The concept went viral on Facebook when a page called Suicide Awareness/Prevention with over 600,000 followers shared a photo of a mental health check-in chart that another teacher had created inspired by Castillo’s resource. The photo was shared 162,000 times and sparked a discussion with 14,000 comments.

The photo featured in the Facebook post was from a teacher named Jessie Cayton, who identified Castillo as the original source of inspiration for the chart.

Other teachers began using the chart in their classrooms and sharing photos on Instagram

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After one if my staff memebers showed me @jsscytn post of doing this in her classroom, I fell in love with idea…. so I decided to do it in mine. Some of my students are going to need it to be differentiated for their understanding so I will help those kiddos. For those who have staff like nurses, aides, paraprofessionals it’s great tool to see how staff are feeling. Staff and students decorated their own strip and I can’t to see how it will go on Monday when we use it for the first time ♥️ #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers #thesped #thespedlife #teacherlife #sped #spedteacher #teachersofig #firstyearteacher #autism #autismawareness #autismrocks #autisticteacher #autistickidsrock #autismclassroom #awesomelyautistic #autismadvocate #autismadventures #teachlove #teachacceptance #teachlovenothate

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The check-in chart is a crucial resource at a time when more and more students are showing signs of mental health challenges

More than one in three college freshmen – about 35% – have a history of at least one mental disorder, according to a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Researchers have described perfectionism as an”epidemic” among millennials that is taking a toll on their mental health. And graphic depictions of suicide in media may increase teen suicide risk.

Castillo was moved to see her creation going viral, inspiring other teachers to post versions of her check-in chart in their classrooms and talk to their students about mental health.

“I just started crying,” she said. “My husband asked me why I was crying, and I said ‘Because kids are being saved everywhere.'”