Mental health should be taught in schools

Liberty Smith, Reporter

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Author Theodore Kaczynski has said, “Our society tends to regard as a sickness any mode of thought or behavior that is inconvenient for the system and this is plausible because when an individual doesn’t fit into the system it causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system.”

My younger sister recently graduated from her fifth grade D.A.R.E. program, and during her graduation one of the D.A.R.E. officers held a sort of “shout out answers” verbal quiz (you know, that thing adults do when they are trying to prove to the parents in the audience that their children really did learn things). One of the questions she was asked was, “And when we’re stressed out what are we NOT going to do?” Of course all the little kids shouted back with “Drugs and Alcohol.”  And that was the moment that it hit me. It’s fairly easy for a group of fifth graders to say they won’t use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for being stressed when their definition of stress is most likely worrying about which kickball team they’re going to be on or whether or not they remembered which day of the week was crazy sock day. Sitting there in my metal folding chair in that elementary auditorium I wanted to yell, “Okay, yeah, but what about when your boyfriend cheats on you, and your best friend suddenly decides that they’d rather not continue putting forth effort, or you still have five scholarship applications to fill out and you’re not even sure you can get into your dream college because you have to write a six-page essay in two days for a class you’re already close to failing or you’re trying to balance a job with a full-time athletic schedule? I’d be willing to bet you’ll all contemplate taking a drink on the weekend then!”

Lucky for everyone, that did not come out of my mouth.

In public school you are required to take science classes, history classes, math classes, and english classes. You’re also allowed to take classes like psychology, art, technology, band, weight training, theatre, agriculture…There are endless schedule combinations and plenty of choices with some classes becoming so specific that there may only be a select few who wind up taking them. This most likely does not shock you. Now think about how many times a day you see someone tweet, listen to someone say, or even hear yourself saying one or more variations of the following: “I’m so tired,” “I need this day to be over,” “I got no sleep last night,” “I’m so stressed,” “I do not have enough time for this,”  “College is giving me so much anxiety”, “If I have to write one more essay I’m going to have a panic attack,” “My anxiety is giving me anxiety,” “I can’t do school today,” “I would literally rather die than take this test,” or “I need a nap.”? You probably cannot honestly give a number under 10.  If you can, congratulations, you either hang out with very positive and well-rested people or you talk to very few people and you yourself value sleep and hyper-positivity.

The underlying question is why don’t we have a class that teaches students about mental health if the problems resulting from it are obviously very prominent in the environment we live in? Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses, affecting 25 percent of all teens and thirty percent of all teenage girls. The number of teens who struggle with anxiety has been steadily rising for nearly a century. Only about a third of people who suffer from anxiety receive treatment and nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety. Eating disorders also commonly co-occur with anxiety and panic disorders. Changes in the brain, stress, or in a person’s environment molds the brain circuit, which regulates fear and emotions. Severe stress, especially involving memory linked with emotion or trauma can trigger a disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder, a continuous and overwhelming sense of worry and stream of self-consciousness in everyday social situations is especially prevalent in teens.

Each day in our nation, there are on average of over 5,240 attempts of suicide by young people in grades 7-12. I recognize that schools have been trying to make an effort to bring more awareness to the subject but I don’t personally believe that it’s enough. I strongly believe that educating young people about how mental health disorders work would create a stronger sense of understanding in the school community and that offering ways to combat stress and find treatment would be beneficial for overall student health and attitudes at school in general.

“The idea of a ‘mental health day’ is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. The idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal.”-John Green.

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Mental health should be taught in schools