Early-age mental health initiatives can save lives

Ben Borrok, Contributing Writer

This year, all New York school curricula will include mental health education in a move that marks the state as the first in the nation to require this type of education for all grade levels.

New York added mental health to the curriculum in an attempt to combat the staggering rates of mental illness among Americans today, especially in tweens and teens. In fact, a recent study found that 22.2 percent of adolescents between ages 13 and 18 had a serious mental illness, and that 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. With no clear-cut solution to dealing with mental illness, roughly 11 million Americans do not receive necessary mental health services. Many do not take mental illness seriously, as the symptoms are invisible and the suffering is immeasurable.

This attitude and inaction to combat mental illness has resulted in the suicide rate rising to the third-highest cause of death among teens in the United States. Mental health education could be a remedy for a clear epidemic.

With this education program, students will learn practical skills and mechanisms to keep mental illness at bay. Rather than lecture on different kinds of mental illness, students will learn simple and sufficient remedies for stress, coping with grief and failure, and how to help others who exhibit signs of mental illness. It is important to teach kids that there are places and people to go to if they ever need help. Too many young kids do not understand their symptoms and choose to internalize their feelings, in turn putting them at higher risk for mental health problems. There is no reason for children as young as 12 and 13 to develop depression, so New York’s mental health education program should be expanded to more states in order to see the true scope of its remedying power.

For too long, mental illnesses have been used as insults and put-downs, as an attempt to make others laugh. Kids teasing, “You have OCD!” and “Gosh, you are so bipolar!” shames those who exhibit possible symptoms and forces those who suffer from these illnesses to do so in silence for fear of bullying. If we want to get serious about combating mental illness, this education program needs to be paired with a system that calls out those who use such illnesses as an insult or a way to shame others. It’s one thing to give help to those who need it, it is another thing to combat the stigma that surrounds mental illness at a young age. In order to provide relief to those who suffer from mental illness, we need to increase the conversation about it.

We need to treat mental illness like we would any other physical ailment. Kids need to know that it is okay to discuss their feelings. If kids do not feel that they are being taken seriously, then they will continue to keep to themselves, not realizing that many of their own friends may be going through the same thing. This implementation of New York’s mental health education could be the solution to our growing crisis.

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