Yes, learning about history and English is important. Math and science too. But what about mental health? Students every day are silently dealing with the conflicts happening within their mind, and little knowledge on how to deal with them. Are students able to truly reap the benefits of education if they are internally struggling themselves? It’s necessary to begin implementing mental health in school’s curriculums, so that individuals can learn how to process normal and inevitable emotions, while also being able to go about their daily lives.
Through inadequate amounts of school and education, individuals are left to figure out the struggles of depression and mental health on their own. Like physical health, it’s something that should be taught in schools, beginning in high school or earlier. While school principals indicate that mental health is still one of the most unmet needs of children, there are certain organizations who are trying to improve the system.
The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence is working to inform children and adults on how education surrounding emotional intelligence can benefit many aspects of one’s life. Through their research, they teach “people of all ages how to develop emotional intelligence.” Unfortunately, these efforts are not implemented in every school nation-wide. There are still many children who are struggling with mental health and going unnoticed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.4 million children (3-17-years-old) are diagnosed with anxiety and 1.9 million children have diagnosed depression. This means that by the time they reach high school, many students are already in the depths of mental illness, and yet are thrown into an environment that will potentially increase it.
Teen years can be very stressful and high school does little to help. Not only are you finding yourself, but you’re also juggling maintaining friendships, getting involved, academics and applying to a place that will supposedly decide your future… college. I found these life changes to be particularly overwhelming even in my own life. While I didn’t realize it at the time, I placed an absurd amount of pressure on myself to become the most successful version of myself, when I didn’t even know who I truly was. Not only was I deciding what I wanted to do with my future at the young age of 17, I was also expected to maintain excellent grades, nurture friendships, stay social, balance self-care and still somehow have time to breathe.
Thankfully, I’m not alone. A study done by New York University found that 49% of students felt an immense amount of stress on a daily basis, with 31% admitting to feeling somewhat stressed. The greatest factors contributing to stress were grades, homework and preparing for college. In an already stressful environment, I can’t imagine education surrounding mental health to be anything but helpful.
Everyone struggles with their mental health from time to time, which is why the stigma surrounding mental health is absurd. There isn’t one person on Earth who hasn’t felt sad, lonely, anxious or angry at one point during their lifetime. By leading thoughtful conversations in an academic environment, children will be able to learn how to navigate their thoughts and feelings, and when/how to ask for help.
For example, classes surrounding emotional intelligence and how to process positive or negative emotions can be particularly beneficial for sixth graders who are still somewhat sheltered, yet beginning to enter their teenage years. High school’s can offer classes surrounding well-being, where teachers can discuss how one can focus on their happiness, prosperity and overall health. Of course, all of these discussions will place an emphasis on the mental component, rather than the physical. Through this education, children will learn that asking for help is not something to be ashamed of, but rather something that is celebrated. If as a society we never discuss mental wellbeing, the stigma surrounding it will never cease to exist.
While life posed many challenges prior to March 2020, after that month we all entered a complete new phase of survival. Coronavirus came into play and society was faced with a different kind of stress: a life or death prolonged one. Now, people had to worry whether their actions would literally lead them to death or if they would live to see the end of the pandemic. The American Psychological Association conducted a survey that studied how individuals are coping with long-term stress. It reports 61% of individuals experiencing undesired weight changes, 67% sleeping less or more time than they want to and 21% resorting to drinking more alcohol to cope with pandemic related stress.
Imagine if everyone had received education surrounding mental health. Rather than being in the dark during a life-altering, uncontrollable event, young adults would have had an information base to aid them through the tumultuous changes happening during that time. Furthermore, many of the coping strategies therapists and psychologists would have suggested to clients prior to the pandemic were now unavailable; going out to dinner, watching a movie, drinking a glass of wine with a friend were all moments of the past.
If society implements mental health education in schools, we can come together to erase the stigma surrounding mental health, teach children how to navigate their feelings from a young age and normalize asking for help, especially when one needs it most.
Jordana Castelli of Essex is a senior at the University of Connecticut. She is currently majoring in Journalism and Communications, with a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality studies. She is part of the Connecticut Mirror’s Student Voice journalism program.