Better Mental Health Education in Bay Area Schools
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We are a group of four sophomores. But we are more than that, we are a group of young people with a passion for change. Sparked by our school project, we are ready to finally end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Mental illness has affected us, our families, our friends, and our whole worlds. We don't want to give the stigma that kind of power anymore. By campaigning to educate more about mental illness, we can make a difference.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adolescents in the United States struggles with a mental illness. However, there are deep rooted stigmas in our society about mental illness which cause people to fear to speak about the issue. The negative connotations surrounding seeing a therapist and taking medication for a mental illness need to be addressed. These stigmas cause an atmosphere of secrecy and shame which no person deserves to feel when suffering from something outside of one's control. Unfortunately, due to stigma, the majority of people believe that mental illnesses are not a legitimate medical concern. A mental illness is not any less important than a broken arm, or asthma. Mental illnesses can be well managed with education, therapy, and medication. Much like you wouldn’t try to deprive a child with a broken arm a cast, why would you try to cover up a child’s mental illness?
The societal shaming starts at a very young age. For example, in “Study: Impact of unaddressed mental health issues on students is severe,” from The Washington Post, the study reveals that 70% of the children with mental illnesses were exhibiting symptoms of their illness before second grade. But the problems aren’t identified until middle school, at the earliest. The children spend years struggling under the weight of their illness and the stigma surrounding it, trying to fight against the lack of knowledge from their peers and teachers:
"I wish more people understood that going to a psychologist does not mean that I'm weird or different, or that something is wrong with me. To me, a psychologist is just someone I can talk to that might have ideas to help me." ~5th Grade Bay Area Student
This is the kind of insight that the rest of our country needs to understand. If schools provided a more comprehensive mental illness education program that spans from elementary to high school, we could reduce the shame and stigma associated with mental illness. One in five students have a diagnosable mental illness, yet, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, only 20 percent of those receive treatment. Schools cannot shy away from anxiety and depression and ignore the fact that many of their students live with those every day. Currently, mental health education is severely lacking in most schools. Either the illnesses are skipped entirely in health classes of programs, or are barely touched on in the school curriculum. The current U.S. Mental Health in Schools Act of 2015, which can be found on www.congress.gov mandates that schools have a program in place to help children dealing with “trauma and violence,” but does not have any specific requirements about what must be taught to the other students, including the ones who do not struggle with mental illnesses.Within California, we have the Mental Health Services Act, also known as Proposition 63, which was voted on in 2004. According to the website of the California Department of Education, this act supposedly does what we want to do. It claims to work on destigmatization, and talks about the benefits of mental health education. However, given the immense power the stigma still has, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) is not being implemented to its full capacity.
Therefore we are asking you, education representatives of the OUSD, CAIS, SRVUSD, the California Governor, and the U.S. Secretary of Education, as people who have the power to change this, to include better and more comprehensive mental illness education in schools by enforcing and growing the MHSA, which we already have. By adding more information on mental illnesses and how to manage them to the health curriculum beginning in elementary school, as well as teaching how to de-stigmatize these illnesses, we can help the nine million California students understand that they are not alone if they have a mental illness, and that they do not need to hide what they are struggling with. In erasing the stigma through education and awareness, we can truly change the world for the better.
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