We’ve all been there. On the brink of an emotional breakdown, (maybe even in the middle of one) concerned about school, extracurriculars, college, what the heck we’re going to be and do in the future. Every negative emotion you know bottled up and boiling, and feeling as if it’s only a moment before you spontaneously combust. You lash out at friends and family, can’t focus on school work, or maybe even completely disengage from it all.
Trust me when I say this, you are not alone.
But the question we must ask ourselves is: how did we get here? And more importantly: what the hell do we do now?
Mental health is something that is rarely talked about within schools (whether that be elementary, middle, high school, or beyond) and yet it is something that is guaranteed to affect everybody’s life in one way or another.
We’ve all gotten sick before right? Sprained an ankle, maybe even broken a bone? And we all know that if we’re hurt, that we should go and see a doctor, fix what needs to be fixed, and move on with our lives. But for some odd reason, we don’t view our mental health in the same light. We will all struggle with our mental health, yet will rarely –if ever– do anything about it. And as of right now, our schools do not help very much in getting the help or education we need.
Don’t get me wrong, our health classes do brush up on the definitions of some things; depression, anxiety, maybe even eating disorders if you’re lucky. Other than that though, mental illnesses are viewed as these scary, faraway things that will never truly affect us. A topic too taboo to discuss with the youngsters. Something that means, if we do happen to be that one in a billion instance of being affected, that we can basically kiss the rest of our life goodbye.
Well have I got some news for you, buckaroo.
The statistics surrounding mental illnesses are –to put it lightly– incredibly jarring. One in five of every youth aged 13 to 18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness. Around 8.6% of all of the youth in America have severe clinical depression, however a staggering 76% of those affected –that’s around 1.6 million kids– have received inadequate, or simply zero treatment for it at all.
Nearly 50% of adults with chronic mental illnesses developed diagnosable symptoms by the age of 14. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24, with 90% of those who have died due to suicide having had an underlying mental illness. I could keep going, but these facts barely even graze the tip of the iceberg in regards to mental health and it’s affect on our society, especially our youth, today. Yet, the discussion around mental health is still incredibly lacking (if it’s even there to begin with).
Based on my own personal experience, I think that the stigmatization of these topics has made it near impossible for students to realize the overbearing presence of mental health struggles amongst our age demographic. Our society has consistently romanticized and ridiculed the topic, to the point where the only mention of mental illnesses are when they’re used as a descriptor, derogatory term, joke, or some crude combination of all three. I mean, how many of us have heard –or even said– phrases along the lines of “I’m, like, super OCD” or “ugh, she is so bipolar” or “I wish I was anorexic.”
Films and other media have romanticized many of these illnesses to be seen as desirable or “quirky” personality traits. We don’t even realize that it’s happening, however, mental illnesses are constantly being framed in a wonky light, therefore further subconsciously perpetuating our negative association with it’s presence. And unfortunately, this stigma surrounding mental health is only growing.
So what do we do now? How do we get rid of something that is so deeply ingrained within our society?
That’s where schools come in.
Ah yes school, the dreaded center of knowledge and (let’s be more realistic here) stress. But, there is a power schools have that we often ignore. Schools are the epicenters of education (well, duh) and are one of the few places where we get to learn about issues that are currently prevalent, in the hopes that one day, we may be the ones to solve them.
The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing it’s a problem in the first place. And somehow, even with its heavy impact and undeniable looming presence in our day-to-day lives, the topic of mental health has been completely avoided by our education system. Now, this is not completely our schools fault, but I’d be lying if I said that we couldn’t do way more in emphasizing the importance of mental health education and awareness within our schools. Starting off by acknowledging theses issues from the get-go.
One of the biggest problems I faced while struggling with my own mental health, was simply having no idea where to go or what to do about it. I felt ashamed of my actions, I felt hatred towards myself, and I felt as if all of my struggles were somehow “invalid” and didn’t matter or need “treatment.” Having discussed this with many mental health advocates, it seems as though these are recurring feelings amongst nearly everyone who has ever had to reach out for help in regards to their mental health. And every single one of those people would all tell you the same thing: that treatment is not only helpful, but absolutely, positively, necessary in order to get better.
Nearly 20% of youth aged 13 to 18 have a diagnosable mental illnesses, yet our schools barely educate us on what these mental illnesses are. We need to have education on these issues starting from elementary and middle school –where these issues first start arising. We need resources at the ready, with mental health information known just as well as we know the quadratic formula.
One of the hardest parts of learning about your mental health is learning how to take care of it, but if that’s something we learn as part of our general education, that problem can be completely erased.
In response to this lack of education, and (honestly) out of sheer curiosity, I decided to hold a poll on my Instagram. In this poll, I asked six questions in relation to mental health and mental illness education within schools, and asked people to respond to them with a yes or no answer. The results of the poll can be found at the end of this article, but there were two questions in particular whose results, I think, perfectly sum up how mental health education is handled within our schools today.
In my first question, I asked whether people thought that mental health should be discussed more in schools. Ninety-four percent of them answered yes. Next, I asked whether their schools taught about mental illnesses and/or mental health and how to deal with them. Seventy-three percent of them answered no.
Can you see the issue here? It’s not the fact that kids don’t want to learn about these issues. In fact, it can be seen that they’d prefer it if they did. But when more than 70% of them aren’t provided with any information on these topics in the first place, how will they ever be able to acknowledge, and even further, solve the issues regarding them?
One of the main reasons that mental health and illness awareness is so stigmatized can be traced back to that fact that we aren’t educated on what these things are in the first place. We aren’t aware of the fact that everyone will struggle with their mental health, regardless of whether they have a mental illness or not. We aren’t aware of the fact that even if we don’t have a mental illness ourselves, based purely off of statistics we are guaranteed to know someone who does. We aren’t aware of the fact that our mental health is identical to our physical health, in that, if we don’t take care of it, it will slowly deteriorate. We aren’t aware of the staggering statistics about mental illnesses and how they affect our society. We aren’t given the tools to know what common mental health struggles are or how to take care of them. We aren’t given the resources necessary to properly seek additional help if we need it.
Coming from someone who struggled with bulimia from when she was 12 until she was 15, who didn’t understand the extent of danger she was putting herself in everyday she didn’t get help, who felt alone, who didn’t know that recovery was possible –let alone even a thing, who has watched some of her closest friends nearly lose their lives to suicide, who talked to nearly hundreds of other students before she realized just how relevant this issue is: we need proper mental health education within our schools.
Not just for that every 1 in 5 statistic, not just for all of the too-young lives lost to suicide, not just for the millions of kids who have to struggle in silence everyday, but for everybody.
Because mental illness is not what it’s been portrayed as in our media. Because our mental health is not something we should brush under the rug. Because 1.6 million children should not have to suffer with a diagnosable medical issue without treatment because it isn’t seen as what it is: a medical issue. Because, yes, some diseases are chronic, but all of them can be made livable with proper treatment. And most importantly because we are not, and should never be, alone in these struggles.
Without a proper education on these topics, we will never be able to move forward in eliminating the stigma around them. There are so many other aspects in regards to mental health’s presence in our society today, but we need to start somewhere. Without resources initially being provided to our youth, these jarring numbers will only continue to rise as we grow older.
So, let’s get this conversation going. Start to talk about these issues more. Reach out to your schools about providing resources and raising awareness. Do not ignore your mental health. Try to be more aware of the people surrounding you and how they may be struggling as well; I can guarantee you’ll be shocked at the sheer amount of people who are affected, whether directly or indirectly.
Because if there is one thing I can tell you with the utmost confidence, it’s that you deserve to live your life to the fullest. That your struggles are valid and should be treated as such. That we can be the force to change the course of how mental health is viewed and treated within our daily lives.
We are the future. Let’s make sure that we do everything in our power to ensure that we’re a progressive, aware, supportive, and healthy one.