The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in Schools

Lets Talk About Mental Health; Photo courtesy of California State PTA

Let’s Talk About Mental Health; Photo courtesy of California State PTA

Bita Zadeh, Photojournalist

Math, Science, Language Arts, and History. These are basic classes needed throughout one’s journey of education to become a well-rounded student. Although our general education classes, taken since kindergarten, are important curriculums, educators are missing out on teaching something much more important than geometry or physics: mental health.

Schools like Yorba Linda High School have health teachers that are required to include lessons on tobacco, drugs and alcohol, cancer detection, safe sex, etc… However, despite its importance, mental health education has not been part of education systems. In my opinion, mental health courses should be made a requirement starting from a young age. Over the course of generations, there has been an increase in youth anxiety and depression. Kids are taught how to detect signs of cancer and how to avoid accidents, but we don’t teach them how to recognize the symptoms of mental illnesses. Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year. By educating children at a young age  about mental health, children will learn how to recognize early symptoms and seek help before a crisis develops.

Along with a mental health education course, an advisory group that focuses on mental health would be beneficial. Many students do not know about their own school’s counseling centers. In fact, those who do know about their counseling centers often feel very uncomfortable going to get treatment due to stigmatized issues. More and more students need to feel like their problems are not irrelevant as others make them seem. An advisory group that just focuses on mental health would concentrate on recommending and supporting strategies for students with mental health issues. Cheryl Pham (12) agrees and “[believes] that the bigger the wave of student activism is, the more people will realize that mental health is a primary concern and people who do have mental health issues will feel supported”. I believe that once schools start emphasizing mental health, more people will realize the importance of supporting this hidden concern. With that in mind, creating a peer counseling service would help students feel less stigmatized. It should consist of students who have found ways to mitigate their own symptoms. Having peer counselors help/advise students may be more beneficial because it is much easier to approach a peer for advice than seek the help of an adult.

Until mental health education is a mandatory aspect of all schools, teachers and administrators can work to promote awareness with their students. Key strategies to shine a light on this dreary topic include the concept of self-care and responsibility for one’s own wellness and mental health. Thus, teachers and students should be provided with ways to recognize signs of developing mental health problems. There should be more opportunities around the awareness and management of mental health crises, including the risk of suicide or self-harm, at schools. Furthermore, instructions should address the negative consequences of stigma and negative attitudes toward mental illness.