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When it comes to education, many are comfortable with our school systems, public or not, and without hesitation think the youth of today are being taught what they need to know in order to be healthy, successful adults. Many schools aren’t falling short of achieving that, but take this into consideration, one in every five children are affected by mental health problems (Purdue University). So what hat does that mean for the students who have the ability to be successful but are held back by mental illness? Maybe even one they’re unaware of, but can still understand that some days they just feel different.
Offering age-appropriate mental health education, awareness, and further resources at the age Sexual Education is offered, could potentially reduce the stigma and negative connotations associated. Being educated on this topic as an adolescent will help children understand that mental health is just as important as physical health and not only doesn’t it help them now, but it will continue as they get older.
The education system should require mental health education, as early as elementary school, for the benefit of the student’s well-being.
There is a reoccurring question though. Is mental health being neglected in our children’s schools? As stated by Providence Health and Services, “the mental health crisis in our schools is a result of a lack of education on the matter and a lack of resources to properly mitigate it…Teachers, who are the most hands-on with these students the majority of the time, aren’t trained in mental health.
” On the other hand, there’s the school’s counselor. Who’s equipped and trained to evaluate, but has an overload of students they see on a daily basis which is more so for academic reasons, rather than mental support. So the few adults who have some background with mental health resources are being redirected elsewhere. Once again, that leaves the teachers as the first line of defense.
While school is not only a natural stressor on its own, but for a child who is suffering from a treated or untreated mental illness can reap the consequences when it comes to their academic performance. In a report written by Purdue University stated that “Children with mental illness often have difficulty learning, develop behavioral and emotional problems, and participate in activities that endanger themselves and others.” In correspondence to that, the Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, mental illness interference can manifest in a number of ways. Such as screening out environmental stimuli, sustaining concentration, maintaining stamina, and how they interact with others, etc. Although Boston University labels these limitations as functions, nonetheless, they’re still hindering the student from performing their academic best. Without proper care, the child may experience severe symptoms. Ultimately with the assistance of mental health education, one can recognize the signs, as an individual, teacher, or another student(s) in an academic setting.
Moreover, elementary schools often promote physical health before any mention of mental health. Why is that? Perhaps because that’s easier to obtain, or maybe because of a global obesity pandemic (Ferguson). Whichever way it’s looked at, mental health is still on the back burner when it’s equally as important for an adolescent. It’s almost as if our educators forget our brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised, too, and not just through STEM activities. With regard to the mental aspect of health, Ferguson states that the “presence of a psychiatric diagnosis in childhood increases the odds of having a disorder in adolescence which in turn leads to increased odds of mental illness in adulthood.” Therefore, the significance of mental health education and awareness is just as apparent as physical health.
In accordance, mental health education in elementary schools provides an abundance of benefits to not just the student and their mental well-being, but also for classmates, parents, guardians, and teachers. The National Association of School Psychologists states that students who receive mental health support achieve better academically, but also are able to navigate life’s challenges. Being educated on mental health and the ability to perform academically is just one of the many reasons as to why this is so important to our youth. Having these resources available can also reduce violence, allow for fewer dropouts, and prevent substance abuse disorders. Lastly, considering that the suicide rate, among 10-14-year-olds, has doubled in the past two decades, the power of this education can most importantly save lives too (NAMI).
For an adolescent, being able to interpret at a young age that school is a safe place, while also understanding that school is a safe place to express their feelings to adults who are trained to help, in turn, will ease the tensions of having a mental illness and seeing it as a negative trait. As reported by St. Thomas University, “There are quite a few programs and organizations that provide treatment for adolescents with severe and persistent mental illness such as community clinics, hospitals, and residential treatment centers…these settings are all beneficial…but can be inconvenient due to barriers…lack of transportation, financial hardships and lack of insurance.” This is where the significance of school-based mental health programs can strongly benefit. In the opinion of NASP, the National Association of School Psychologists, “schools are an ideal place to provide mental health services to children and youth.” Given the fact that children spend up to six hours a day on campus, a sense of place is there and that leads to the student feeling comfortable enough to seek the services available to them.
While some schools offer these programs and services, it’s important to acknowledge that not all schools are equipped nor prepared to handle the mental health crisis at hand with adolescents. In addition, there’s also a concern arising from parents. As of 2018, Florida state school district passed a law that requires parents of new students to fill out a registration form that depicts whether or not that child has been referred to mental health services. In doing so, parents believe that’s invasive to the child’s privacy. Another overwhelming concern for parents in that school district is the possibility that their child’s mental health history will be held against them if future incidents do occur. There’s also the worry that, that information may fall into the wrong hands (Kaiser Health). Which then may lead to bullying or some other form of discrimination against the child for suffering from a mental illness. For the parent, these are genuine concerns when it comes to the safety of their child, especially if that child experiences mental health issues.
In conclusion, it is imperative to remember that mental health issues are often developed in early childhood, but they are common and most importantly treatable. In order to combat that, the education that school districts offer in elementary school, in relation to mental health, should represent a wide variety of mental health guidance and be appropriate to that specific age group. That alone can impact the stigma and create an environment that’s safe and comfortable for everyone involved. As well as, promoting mental health in a way that’s similar to how physical health is. Nevertheless, both are equally relevant to one another and the health of the adolescent. Having a mental illness doesn’t make anyone less of a person and having the correct resources can help can make all the difference. Above all, it is pertinent to remember that the student’s mental health success is based on the school and the type of mental health education they offer.
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