Whether I’m teaching health, or physical education, one thing is certain…my students want to learn more about mental health. The pandemic has tested their mental and emotional skills in the same way that it has for us as educators, and it’s important that we address this situation. This blog post considers the role that schools can play in this. This is the second blog post this month from Candor Health Education and is written by their Senior Health Educator, Liz Garcia.
In a recent article from NBC News, Sarah DiGiulo talks about how a new law in the state of New York is requiring mental health to be taught in health education classes. While there are currently some schools that have already been teaching about mental health, it hasn’t been mandated. Reaching out for help regarding issues with mental health is often stigmatized as making a person “weak” or “unable to handle things on their own”. This stigma is often passed on from parents to their children unknowingly, making children think that they are weak for not being able to handle everyday stress as well as some others may be able to.
According to research from the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 teens has had a serious mental disorder at some point in their life. This article addresses what can we do to help teens and reduce this number. We need to teach them:
- it is okay to reach out for help.
- that taking care of their mental health is just as important as taking care of their physical health.
- how to recognize and identify signs of mental health problems or crises.
- who to go to for help when faced with a mental health issue.
- there is a difference between having everyday emotions and more concerning symptoms.
How do we do this? We start by teaching kids about mental health as early as elementary school so teens and young adults can be more resilient as they grow up. It is not uncommon for mental health issues to begin to become more apparent between 14-24 years old (Nami.org). We need to arm these young people with the strategies and skills needed before these issues surface.
It is crucial that we prepare young people to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis and to help in the intervention process when mental health issues do arise. The earlier we start teaching our young people about mental health, the better we can destigmatize and change the beliefs that are currently held about it. While this change may not happen overnight, it needs to start in the classroom. By arming our teachers with the resources necessary we can take the first step to enable change.
The next step, mental health education shouldn’t only be discussed in the classroom. Locally, 15% of 8th grade students in Cook and DuPage Counties say they do not have an adult other than their parent that they could talk to about important things in their life (Illinois Youth Survey Data from 2018). Whether it’s a teacher, counselor, coach or another trusted adult, it’s crucial that students have the comfort level and ability to talk about their concerns and feelings. Having a significant conversation in person can be awkward and uncomfortable, resulting in both children and adults avoiding the conversation altogether. While technology has helped us be more connected to the world than ever before, it is having a negative effect on how we communicate in person-to-person interactions.
Educating children on mental health issues early in life is important. Through education, we can help them recognize that there are people out there they can trust, and we can provide them with proven ways to deal with stress and hardship. Hopefully in the years to come, Illinois will follow suit and require mental health education in schools.
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