Education On Mental Illness

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By Yvonne Villasenor

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There are a good majority of people in the United States who are uneducated on the subject of mental illness – this is more likely to result in a stigma against someone who has one. Mental illnesses are a subject that need to be taught in school in order to bring more awareness and end the shame that comes with them.
Some people may believe our educational system is perfect the way it is, but I would argue otherwise. (Common core? Let’s get real…) In my opinion, mental illness is a topic that is vital to talk to adolescents about. It can be incredibly beneficial to not only teenagers, but more specifically, to those who have a mental illness or know those who have one. According to Bring Change 2 Mind, mental illness affects 1 in 4 people. Bring Change 2 Mind is an organization that allows teenagers to learn more about mental illnesses and to help end the stigma associated with them. Their reasoning for reaching out more to teens is similar to that of my reasoning to educate middle/high school students – “to create lasting change in the perception of mental illness…youth must lead the way in erasing stigma before it ever begins.”

Many hold the mentality that mental illnesses are a choice or something controllable. The mental illness itself is not controllable, but with the proper treatment, a particular condition may be easier to live with. Organizations like Bring Change 2 Mind make it easier for anyone of any age to seek out treatment.
If mental illnesses were a part of regular school curriculum, it would eliminate a lot of the humiliation and judgement that are associated with them. It wouldn’t be seen as a taboo subject- much like it is now- if more light was brought on to it. Since depression and anxiety are the most common disorders, this could help students feel more comfortable with their condition and would allow them to feel like they could go out and talk to a psychologist, take medication, etc. without feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

According to Psychology Today, “of the 450 million people worldwide who suffer from mental illness conditions, the majority (60%) do not receive any form of care, with 90% of people in developing countries receiving no form of care”. If more people were to get help, it would very well decrease substance abuse, self-harm and suicide rates. According to Bring Change 2 Mind, “over the past thirty years, the rate of suicide among men has been three to four times that of women…in addition to a reluctance to seek help, men have higher levels of isolation, and of drug and alcohol misuse; are at a greater risk for homelessness; display more externalized and destructive behaviors; and are more involved with the criminal justice system.”

Reclusive behavior, addiction, homelessness and criminal activity are possible results of having a disease and not receiving help – these struggles are easy to overlook if you are not knowledgeable on how mental illness might affect someone.
Bringing awareness would help the youth and even elders come together to understand one another rather than avoid or distance themselves from someone. Negative attitudes towards the issue of someone having a mental illness can sometimes result in fear and what is called “social distancing,” which is when someone puts a barrier between themselves and the person with the mental illness – this, as you can rightfully assume, can make whoever is living with the illness’s symptoms even worse since they experience more feelings of social rejection (Psychology Today).

Teaching young adults about mental illness would help bring awareness to the issue, reduce the stigma that seems to coincide with the subject of mental illness and ultimately and help those who are suffering get better. People wouldn’t have to suffer alone, nor would they be defined as a person by their mental illness.
While some may argue that this isn’t something that needs to be taught in school and that there are far too many subjects that are more important than mental illness, I would rebut how a class on mental illness would be similar to a health class; health classes are mandatory to graduate from high school. In my secondary education experience, I took two health classes – one in junior high and another in high school. Not to mention, health was covered in 5th and 6th grade as well. In these classes, mental health was not covered much, if at all. If this were to be a mandatory class, students would take from it since it’d be new and would therefore, hold an interest. It could potentially save lives and no other class does that. All aspects of health are essential to a person’s well-being – we focus on a healthy body, why not a healthy mind?

I graduated nearly three years ago and remember peers of mine claiming how they had wished there were different, more interesting classes to take rather than gym and health. (Here, I am making a hasty generalization that a good majority of students feel as though health and gym are boring/dreadful based off personal experience, but I do not feel as though it is a problem for my main argument.) A class on mental illnesses may be more fascinating for students to take since it has components that are similar to that of a psychology class.
Having a mental illness does not and should not define someone – they should instead be defined by their character and talent. Big names like Jim Carrey, J.K. Rowling, Brooke Shields, Jared Padalecki, David Beckham, Ben Stiller, Winona Ryder, Leonardo DiCaprio, Billy Joel, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, are no strangers to mental illness and have brought awareness to it. We see these people for what they’ve accomplished, not for their conditions. The misconception is often if you have everything in the world, there is no reason to be down – it just goes to show you that it can affect anyone and that one can still prosper and be successful.
Although there are already a number of mandatory classes students need to take in their thirteen years of schooling, taking a class on mental illness could be incredibly beneficial for students and for anyone who has to endure a life with a mental illness. With awareness raised, the stigma associated with it would be heavily reduced and would ultimately help those who are suffering to seek help if they haven’t already and make them feel more comfortable with themselves. Organizations like Bring Change 2 Mind have a mission of ending mental illness stigma – imagine how quickly it would be reduced if it was taught in schools. Students who are battling an invisible monster wouldn’t feel so socially exiled. After all, our secondary years of education is when we seek the most acceptance from our peers – it’s time to take the steps towards making that process a little easier for our youth.

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