OPINION: Make Mental Health Discussion Part of the Curriculum

It’s old news to say mental illness is an epidemic in the United States; Millennials and Gen Zers are already well aware of that. So why is so little being done to educate or help teenagers with mental health issues?

Mental Health America found in 2018 research that “over 44 million American adults have a mental health condition”. Even more menacing is the finding that youth experiencing mental illness “continues to rise” while the amount of mental health providers, such as therapists and such, continue to stagger. This leaves many experiencing mental illness lacking the help they need. Because of this, a unit should be taught in health class, educating teenagers about mental health.

Discussing mental illness is taboo in society. In our own school district alone, it is hardly talked about, despite the consequences this has been shown to bring. Last year, when a student committed suicide in January, there was only a generic announcement made during homeroom that did not give any specifics. Guidance counselors were available for support, but not everyone took advantage of this. Granted, many of the school’s procedures are prompted by privacy laws in regards to the family of the deceased; however, the school could have done more. There was no all-school assembly or discussion about the issue.

Also last year, a counselor did come to talk for a single day in the health classes about mental health. However, that is a completely insufficient amount of time for students to garner any sort of knowledge on mental illness or to have any sort of constructive discussion on the topic. Mental illness deserves more than just 40 minutes for how drastically it can affect one’s life.

States such as New York and Virginia have already passed laws mandating mental health be discussed in school. The Virginia law mandates the state’s Board of Education update the health Standards of Learning with mental health material for ninth and 10th grades. The New York law does not mandate a specific curriculum; it instead updates the health curriculum to include mental health in its definition and purview. Under the new law, health education in the state “must recognize the multiple dimensions of health and include the relationship of physical and mental health,” according to the New York State Department of Education.

Many misconstrue a discussion on mental health to be a discussion on depression. But that is not the only mental illness in existence. Yes, depression should definitely be talked about in health class, but alongside anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia disorder, multiple personality disorder, which people have many misconceptions about. We should be teaching teenagers that having a mental illness doesn’t make one “crazy” or “abnormal”, in the same way someone who has a concussion or hereditary disease isn’t labelled “abnormal”. We should also reveal to teenagers just how common mental illness is. Show them the difficulties those who suffer mental illnesses may face throughout their lives, but also show them how successful they can be as well. Teach about the different mental health providers. Inspire generations to come to go into the mental health field and help their fellow Americans.

Teach students how to save lives. Please, the world needs it.