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Introducing Mental Health Concepts in the ESL Classroom

ESL instructors don't just teach English to refugees and immigrants, they are also an important resource for refugees as they adapt to their new cultural environment. They also serve a critical role as cultural informants for the orientation to the US culture.

Although their central role is to teach English language skills, their classroom represents a safe environment where refugees find great supports that help them to adjust to their new lives.  As such, ESL instructors help students grapple with concerns related to mental health. These issues are often imbedded in students need for English language skills and the need to navigate the culture using these skills. 

What this ESL module is NOT:

  • meant to turn ESL instructors into therapists or mental health specialists.
  • meant to be a diagnostic tool or suggest that ESL instructors are qualified to make definitive judgments about students’ mental health or need for therapy.

We do not expect ESL instructors to provide mental health treatment. However, they can create opportunities for social support and create the conditions to enhance refugee's understanding of mental health and wellness from a western perspective. And they can help by increasing the resources that refugees have to cope with stress, by sharing knowledge and information, expressing an interest in their lives, give them opportunities to share their experience, make trauma easier to manage, teaching terminology to help them navigate the mental health system, and may even prevent the development of distress into mental illness.

In partnership with Old Dominion University, DBHDS has developed an ESL module designed to be used in any ESL setting to help meet these objectives.  This can be taught by any trained ESL instructor regardless of their knowledge of mental health and wellness.  The lesson plan, powerpoint, video, and handouts are designed to work together to provide all the pieces needed for a successful one hour course or longer depending on the instructors comfort level.



You can review some material by clicking the links and you may obtain the complete packet or material by completing the utilization request and returning it to