Mental illness and negative effects from poor mental health greatly affect teenagers and every day. Between 12%-20% of American students have a diagnosable mental health disorder. According to WHO, mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years and half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age, but most cases are undetected and untreated. Adolescence is a troublesome time in anyone’s life, but what makes it even more difficult is when individuals don’t have a safe space to open up about their internal struggles or don’t have the resources to help figure themselves out. “The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults”. These formative years are a critical time to get things right. This prompts the question: what causes this prolonged suffering in silence, and what can we do to help?
One of the most central places in a teenager’s day to day is school, a place of community to learn about not only academics but life as well. However, many schools don’t have a comprehensive mental health education program. Even those that do typically only focus on tackling issues once they’ve reached a certain point and already garnered a myriad of negative outcomes. Most schools don’t focus on the mental health of all. It’s important, especially during formative years like in adolescence, to acknowledge that we all have mental health and the health of our minds is just as important as that of our bodies. We shouldn’t only acknowledge our health when something is wrong, but nurture our minds every day to strengthen ourselves and stay healthy. Anyone can do wellness exercises or daily meditations to promote positivity, that’s taking care of mental health. Anyone can take a break when they feel too sad or stressed. You wouldn’t keep walking on a broken leg or power through any other illness or injury. We need to have resources that people can share and education about what to do when something’s wrong and how we can keep things from going wrong.
A For Now Response
There are many different ways to tackle this problem within schools (enriching curriculums, creating supplementary classes, etc.) However, I have a few ideas for some smaller steps that can be taken while still having a larger impact. Towards the beginning of the semester, I had the honor of interviewing a psychologist from a school just a town over from my own, and he told me how his school works to de-stigmatize and educate about mental health issues. They have a student talk series. This is where some students will go in front of the school and share their experiences regarding mental health. While this may be scary for some, a big part of stigma is simply a lack of education and exposure. When you have someone start that conversation and share their experiences, you normalize those experiences. You make it easier for the next person to share their experiences or not feel so alone in their struggle. You allow individuals to identify things within themselves and you empower them to reach out. Sharing out your experiences not only helps you but everyone else around you in your community. Though it might be difficult now due to covid, I’m hoping to at some point implement something like this at my own school, giving students an opportunity to share and educate. Even if you can’t have something exactly like this at your school, there are still a few ways to open up a conversation and help!
How Can You Help? – think about the following questions and fill out the google form!
- What are some ways that you can open up the conversation in your own community?
- How does your school tackle mental health issues? Is it an approach solely to negative mental health or does it include promoting positivity (meditation, wellness exercises, etc.)
- Are there any resources that you would encourage peers to check out to enrich their own knowledge of mental health?
“Adolescent Mental Health.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 28 Sept. 2020, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health.
Bardon, Jack I. “The Scope of a School Mental Health Program.” The Elementary School Journal, vol. 63, no. 4, 1963, pp. 207–211. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/999835.
Desrochers, John E. “The Best Mental Health Programs Start with All Students.” The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 96, no. 4, 2014, pp. 34–39. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24376537.
Murthy, Vivek H. “IMPROVING THE PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH OF ADOLESCENTS TO ENSURE SUCCESS IN ADULTHOOD.” Public Health Reports (1974-), vol. 130, no. 3, 2015, pp. 193–195., www.jstor.org/stable/43776180.
Richardson, Joan. “Shining a Light on Mental Health.” The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 96, no. 4, 2014, pp. 4–4. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24376530.