With mental health conditions on the rise this past decade (until 2017), more should be done to diminish the stigma and help raise awareness about it. According to the American Psychiatric Foundation, about 50% of mental illness begins at the age of 14, which means that mental health issues usually start during school years.
Furthermore, WHO says that depression is one of the major contributors to the overall global burden of disease and is also a leading cause of disability. Around 264M people suffer from depression worldwide. Those numbers are alarming and therefore immediate action is necessary.
Mental health experts suggest that with early intervention comes better and positive outcomes. And thus the first step to help in the fight against mental illness is to start by education. By educating people at a young age about mental health conditions and the importance of taking care of one's mental health, we are building a generation that is more educated and self-aware. School is where students spend most of their daily life, develop friendships and have experiences which might impact their self-image.
However, school is also the place where bullying, violence and other conflicts occur. Therefore, it is imperative for schools to start shedding light on the importance of mental health and how our behavior can impact others. It is important for students to be educated about mental health at an early age because soon enough they will be the leaders of the future. Schools can start doing that by slowly introducing mental health into the curriculum so that students can learn about the mind and mental health conditions the same way they learn about the biology of the human body. There is also a positive correlation between poor mental health and poor grades.
It is reported that students with mental health conditions tend to have poor academic performance. Thus it is important to share awareness and help those in need so that all students can have a fair opportunity. Awareness campaigns should also be part of the school yearly events. In the UK for instance, WiseUp, is a campaign that emphasizes that mental wellbeing is just as important as academic grades.
Furthermore, it is also crucial for teachers to build strong relationships with their students in order to allow honest and open communication. Students are more likely to approach someone they trust if they need help. Conversation clubs in a safe environment where safe space is granted and kids are encouraged to share their feelings is very helpful. Open communication between parents and teachers about mental health is also necessary so that parents can keep track of any changes in their children’s behaviour.
One of the examples that depicts the severity of mental illness and bullying in schools is book and series 13 Reasons Why. The show was aired on Netflix and shows how a chain of events at a high school led to the suicide of a teenage girl. The girl received little to no mental health guidance and felt like no one could help. The show then moves on to show how her classmates, friends and community as a whole was affected by the tragic event.
At the end of each episode, a hotline for youth to seek help is displayed as a way to encourage people to ask for help. This comes to show how mental health awareness should be an essential topic in schools in order to help prevent similar tragedies.
In order for a cultural shift to occur and to erase the misconceptions surrounding mental health conditions, then we should start by empowering the young with knowledge about mental health. By adding mental health education to the curriculum, raising awareness and allowing open communication, early intervention can be possible. Learning about early signs and being educated about it can help save someone’s life.
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