J-DHS Lacks Adequate Mental Health Education Programming

Photo by the author.

Contributing Writer Maggie Frank, ’20

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in every six youths aged 6 to 17 experience a mental disorder each year. This number will continue to grow if we don’t do something now in order to educate students on how to recognize and deal with mental health conditions. Although mental health conditions pay no regard to age, gender, race, sexuality, or religion, there are things people can do to both prevent the onset of mental health conditions, and, or to reduce the symptoms of them. These things must be taught to all students in school. 

For centuries there has been a stigma around mental health that has caused people with mental illnesses to feel ashamed, but there should be no shame in having a mental illness. This negative stigma surrounding mental health causes people everywhere, regardless of if they have a mental illness or not, to stay silent about them.

The lack of mental health education in Jamesville-DeWitt High School has long been an issue and will continue to be one if nothing is done to improve it. Throughout the four years students spend in high school only one semester of health is taught. Of that one semester only one day is spent talking about mental health. It is imperative that students are properly educated on mental health in school because what is taught in health class is, for some, the only mental health education they will ever receive.

During that one day in health class that is spent talking about mental health, students take notes on a 15 minute presentation that gives examples of depression, watch a 20 minute video about how the lack of sleep makes people depressed, and then spend the next 45 minutes of class talking about suicide. The only mental health condition that is talked about in class is depression, and the depiction of it is a very stereotypical and cliché one. This is damaging to students because these shallow depictions can lead students to believe just because they don’t exhibit the exaggerated or stereotypical characteristics of mental illnesses, then they don’t have a mental illness. One example of this happening can be seen in a former Jamesville-DeWitt student, M. 

When I asked her about her mental health education experience in health class, M. stated, “By the time I hit tenth grade health class, I had been struggling with undiagnosed anxiety, depression, and OCD for about ten years. I remember walking out of class going “well, I’m not depressed!” because the depiction of mental illness was such an exaggerated, stereotypical one.”

Marion is among a large number of JDHS students, both former and present, who believe the mental health education provided at school is inadequate and needs to be improved upon greatly. One major supporter behind the push for better mental health education in school is Alethea Shirilan-Howlett, the president of the JD Mental Health Awareness and Education Club at the high school. “It needs to be talked about more in and out of class,” stated Shirilan-Howlett. Clubs such as the JD Mental Health Awareness and Education Club work to educate their members on mental health conditions and promote mental well-being.

One example of the implementation of mental health education in schools is in California. California’s Statewide Mental Health Prevention and Early Intervention Programs encourages not only students to become better educated in mental health, but teachers and staff as well. Statistics show that people’s confidence and likelihood to intervene or help someone who they realized was suffering from a mental health condition increased across the board after participating in the project. Statistics also show that people’s confidence and likelihood to refer to a mental health professional increased across the board.

Mental health conditions can affect all areas of a person’s life. According to NAMI, people with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than those who don’t experience depression, and those with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions. 19.3 percent of U.S. adults with a mental illness also experienced a substance abuse disorder in 2018, which amounts to 9.2 million individuals. The rate of unemployment among U.S. adults who have mental illness (5.8 percent) has been shown to be higher than those who do not (3.6 percent). Data also shows that high school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out than their peers who don’t experience mental health conditions.

It is imperative that students are educated on mental health conditions in school as mental illnesses affect at least one sixth of youths aged 6 to 17. Educating students on mental health conditions will prompt students to seek help for themselves if they develop a mental health condition down the road as well as helping others around them who may be struggling with a mental health condition.

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