Editorial: Mental health should be integrated into curriculum

ILLUSTRATION: Student depression
Graphic by Doug Griswold/Bay Area News Group/TNS

Mental illness affects one in 25 adults. Mental health is something that students must be aware of in order to function in this world. It must be taught to students, so they are prepared for life.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “one in five students has a mental health condition.”

By applying that statistic to the population of WGHS, it can be reasoned that roughly 300 Webster students are affected by a mental health condition.

While the school has a good number of resources for students who do have mental illnesses, mental health needs to be incorporated more into the curriculum.

By being taught about mental health illnesses and mental health in general, students (no matter if they are affected by a mental health condition or not) will be able to become more knowledgeable and aware of it.

Jon Petter, psychology teacher, said, “I would argue that unless students take psychology, they are often ignorant to mental health issues unless it directly affects them (and even then, it’s not always the case). I think that, unfortunately, without it students are often misinformed, and that can dangerous in of itself.”

NAMI states most illnesses begin before age 14, but the average time between when symptoms appear and the person starts getting treatment is about 10 years.

According to Pewtrusts.org, “‘By educating children of all ages about mental health, the hope is that they will learn how to recognize early symptoms in themselves and their friends and seek help before a crisis develops,’ said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, a nonprofit that advocates for better mental health care.”

Along with this, a Echo poll respondent said, “Yes [mental health should be taught], because many students have different mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, and it may make it easier for people to be understood by their peers. As well, students may take their mental health more seriously, notice signs of unbalanced mental health within themselves. Education will certainly help with any sort of judgment of mental illnesses, as that comes from ignorance.”

In order to treat any illness, one must be aware of the possible symptoms; however, if students do not know what these symptoms are, then it will be hard for them to want help, get help, etc.

New York is an example of one state that works towards better mental health education in school. Passed in 2018, a New York law requires mental health to be taught about in middle and high school.

Part of the justification for this bill reads, “Over 50 percent of students with emotional or behavioral disorders drop out of high school, and of those who do remain in school, only 42 percent graduate. Health education that respects the importance of mental health and challenges of mental illness will help young people and their families feel more comfortable seeking help, improve academic performance and save lives,” according to NYassembly.gov.

The facts are the truth, and they are over the top. Suicide still remains the second leading cause of death in children aged 10 to 19 (CNN.com). As stated above, about 50 percent of students who struggle with mental illness end up dropping out of high school. These statistics are too high, and much more can be done to lower the numbers.

Petter said, “I absolutely believe educating students about mental illness will work to help destigmatize it.

Students will learn the truths about the disorders, the prevalence and realities, and work to be more empathetic toward those with mental disorders. In AP Psychology, I work to emphasize realities of the disorders and teach students that these individuals are truly suffering. I expect them to be ambassadors of psychology and mental health when they leave my classroom and help others do the same.”

If Webster Groves and the rest of Missouri follow in New York and Virginia’s footsteps, mental health will be destigmatized, and hopefully, this will help the shocking numbers in these statistics drop down.

Students are taught how to use commas, how to do taxes, how to live as adults, but they are not being taught how to survive mentally. By having these necessary conversations about mental health, students will be safer, wiser, more aware of what mental illness is, the symptoms and how to treat it.

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