We spend the majority of our youth in schools. Living, laughing, stressing, learning. It’s all a part of the package, but things aren’t as simple as that. With mental health becoming such a prominent issue, especially among teens, many students and school departments are considering education on the problem imperative to the well-being of the new generation.
Three Virginia high-schoolers are proposing a new law to require mental health education in kindergarten through 10th grade in the state. With suicide attempts on the rise in their schools, these teens want to see change. They believe reducing the mental health stigma through education, starting at a young age, is part of the answer.
The current Virginia law requires mental health education in 9th and 10th grades, but the new legislation would expand this curriculum to K-10. As this curriculum spans across several grade levels and ages, all of the lessons will be specifically tailored to the students’ level of understanding and emotional capabilities. According to Education Dive, “They include age-appropriate instructional practices aimed at reducing stigma and teaching students how to obtain and maintain good mental health, understand mental health disorders, pick up on signs and symptoms of distress, and seek help.”
Virginia isn’t the only state to stage a mental health intervention (i.e., suicide prevention and mental health prevention professional development) in their school system, but it is one of just three to implement mandatory mental health education for students. Recently, Florida decided to jump on this mental education bandwagon while releasing data showing an increase in student reports of harming themselves (with or without the intention of suicide) and depression. These trends are not exclusive to Florida but are similar on a national scale.
The three student legislators, Lucas Johnson, Alexander Moreno, and Choetsow Tenzin, explain that their peers face various stressors in everyday life—“family and home-life issues, the high-stakes nature of academic life and college admissions standards, and the ripple effects of social media, among others.” When students are left to deal with these struggles on their own, they oftentimes feel a significant weight on their shoulders. Poor mental health, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and mental illness sometimes follow. By teaching students about mental health, the hope is that students will be able to better recognize and handle these issues in the future if they or a friend face them.
Mental health isn’t a new issue and is becoming more of one every day. Students are under immense pressure like never before, and something needs to be done to counter these stresses and aid their emotional and physical health. Personally, though, I haven’t known any of my peers to attempt suicide. However, like the student legislators, I do recognize an increased amount of suicidal thoughts or comments and a general, overwhelming feeling of unhappiness in my school setting. It can be tough for students to go through the motions every day when they are feeling depressed, anxious, or worthless. Since students spend a significant portion of their young lives in school, it makes sense that the school systems should start teaching students about their mental health. It can’t do any harm, and if even one student can identify a struggling friend or notice a part of themself that needs help, it’s worth it.
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.[Image Attribute: Alachua County]