Over the years, there has been an increase in children and young adults suffering from mental health issues. With depression, anxiety, and even rates of suicide rising on a near constant basis, it makes sense that the country would sit up and take notice.
While many states have not yet addressed the rising mental health issues in schools, there are some, such as New York and Florida, that are not only paying attention, but also working to improve the quality of education students receive. As part of an effort to improve mental health education, the state of New York actually made it mandatory to teach students about their mental and physical health.
After a year of mandatory lessons, it seems that there is still a lot of work to be done, as there is no real uniform curriculum when it comes to addressing these classes. Yet, after a year of mental health education, there are some school districts where it is clear this effort is working. Knowing that there is support from one’s school, as well as their peers, can make all of the difference in the world for a student dealing with anxiety or depression. It is about knowing that “you are not alone.”
As more states choose to incorporate mental health education into their curriculum, one would hope that it would act as proof that there is help out there for anyone dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. In fact, MaryEllen Elia, the New York State Commissioner of Education, pointed out that it is not about specifically teaching a lesson, but rather “creating a climate in a school of support.”
Education is the first step towards making schools a more open and supportive place for not just students dealing with mental health issues, but also the staff and parents. If students know that they have someone to talk to, the same can be said for the adults around them, or at the very least that would be the hope.
As the World Health Organization (WHO) points out, mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” However, that does not mean that a person is free of any given mental disorder, but rather that they are able to effectively live with what they are dealing with. WHO even points to early intervention in children as one of the more effective ways of handling mental health issues, which makes sense, as they estimate that at least “half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14.”
If school systems are willing to incorporate mental health education into their curriculum, perhaps these same children will feel that they are in an environment that encourages them to get help. Having the support of educators could potentially go a long way towards improving the mental health of students who might otherwise feel alone in a situation that they can not control.
As with most things health related, if it is caught early there is a chance for recovery and survival. Children deserve to know how to best handle their depression and anxiety. Students need to know that they have options and support when they contemplate suicide. By teaching mental health education in school, there is a chance that the country will see fewer tragedies as these children and young adults grow up knowing how to get the help they need.
Written by Kimberley Spinney
WSKG – New York Made Mental Health Education Mandatory. One Year Later, How’s It Going?
World Health Organization – Mental health: strengthening our response
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