It is a bit unrealistic to expect the average American to have strong level of knowledge about mental health because it’s a sensitive subject that is often avoided by the general public. It has become commonplace for high school educators to actively avoid the subject simply because they don’t know how to handle it. Talk about horrible timing! On average the first signs of a mental health problem start between ages 14 to 18 – the same age bracket that American teenagers attend high school.
What’s so wildly frustrating is that if educators, friends, and family members of high school students took the initiative to speak to their kids about mental health, they would have the ability to help them proactively deal with their mental health problems instead of pretending like they don’t exist.
Bottom line? Every day that is spent shirking the conversation on mental health is a day Americans are failing to care for a teenager’s well-being.
What’s worse than that? Studies now suggest that young adults are more at risk with mental health problems than ever—over the last few years alone there has been an increase in severe depression in young adults from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Contrast that with another study that suggests about 80% of kids have little to no access to mental health services.
Let’s stop and think—where would these numbers be in a year? 2 years?
The reality is that people need to start asking the important questions; how can we teach teens about mental health issues? What area of the school curriculum might best serve this purpose? How can we encourage students to open up about their feelings in ways that they might feel comfortable?
SO, I’ve come up with a suggested plan on how to start teaching teens about mental health. Here are my 5 steps;
- Create a network
A network would be most effective in having the members of high school communities become more invested in mental health awareness – it would require high school administrators to assign student-specific teams of people to meet the needs of each student. Some of the members of that team might include the student’s; parents, their favorite teacher, an academic advisor, and a psychological counselor. These representatives would be engaged in providing a student with helpful resources, advice, and coping methods to address mental health issues. In this way support services for mental health problems would be made more accessible to high school students.
SIDE NOTE: Setting up a support network for students would also benefit the parents, educators, and administrators of high school communities. Sources often report that counselors and teachers alike have too many students to look after to accurately observe and treat students exhibiting mental health problems. Creating a support network for students would help counselors and teachers assess a student’s mental health and act accordingly.
- Pick the best format
After establishing a student’s mental health support network, high schools would have to choose how they want to teach their students about mental health issues. It might be helpful to set up a series of classes for students to take throughout their high school career that teach them how to recognize the signs of a mental health problem and why it is important to take care of their mental health. These classes might include group sessions for students to discuss their personal experiences and participate in activities associated to mental health awareness.
- Brainstorm helpful activities
Educators at the high school level should consider the most effective teaching-plans to educating their students about mental health awareness. Would the classes be lecture based or activity based? A combination of the two? Could guest speakers come in and share stories related to mental health? Perhaps forms of art therapy, and music could be incorporated into the schedule to help students get an understanding for mental health problems and the best ways to dealing with them in their own lives. All of these questions are aspects educators need to consider when setting up a class to teach students about mental health.
- Provide helpful skill-sets
No doubt that there is a lot to be done in educating teens about mental health awareness. Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey I can remember not even knowing what mental health was. Fortunately, educators still have the opportunity to equip students with skills to combat challenges they might face with their mental health. Instructing a mental health class in high school above all else should provide students with ways to relieve stress and avoid triggering problems specific to a student’s mental health. Instructors could teach students about the importance of time-management in academics as well as their personal life. This is a helpful tool that many people with mental health problems continue to struggle with. If challenges like time management are tackled in an education setting, like the classroom, students would be able to achieve higher levels of academic success and minimize their challenges with mental illness.
It is my hope that high schools will start to make student mental health a priority; if not in the classroom then, absolutely, in clubs or extra curricular activities. Educators and administrators need to stop treating mental health like it is an invisible factor in a student’s life and academic career. The simple solution to doing so is supporting students with mental health problems and advocating their needs.
I hope that these few suggestions make an impact in the way you think about mental health awareness in high schools and what we can do to help the teenagers who are struggling.
Do you know any interesting programs your high school has in place for mental health awareness? Are they effective? Can you think of other ways that high schools can get more involved in supporting mental health awareness?
Let me know and leave a comment below!
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As always, remember to make your mind a priority and take care –