The State of Mental Health in the U.S.
In October of last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) declared a national emergency in youth's mental health, pushing politicians to act quickly to solve the youth mental health crisis. "We cannot sit idly by. This is a national emergency, and the moment for decisive action is now," stated AAP President Gabrielle A. Carlson.
Given the alarming and rising prevalence of mental health illnesses, we need to prioritize youth mental health. Suicide, for example, is the second leading cause of death in the United States between the ages of 10 and 19, and depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people aged 16 to 77. Depression is also one of the top three workplace difficulties in the United States, alongside family crises and stress. Not to note that depression and anxiety are prominent causes for suicides and signs to look out for in teens. Rising rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality can have long-term consequences for young people, their families, communities, and the future of America.
*Infographic was retrieved from Mental Health America’s research report on youth mental health
Mental Health in Schools
As a student who attended a public high school within a Hispanic proximity, I observed firsthand how discussing mental health problems were commonly viewed as inappropriate, embarrassing, or even shameful. In high school, I was surrounded by highly intelligent and academically inclined students, but I was also in an environment that was stressful, demanding, and tiring.
My high school lacked the initiative to educate students about accessible options and mental health support, or to reassure students that millions of other teens face similar challenges. The Florida Department of Education does an excellent job of integrating intensive reading and math programs, as well as tutoring services, to help students prepare for exams like the FSA, EOC, AP, and SAT/ACT. They also take pride in building competitive sports teams, as well as funding and hosting games, practices, and competitions. The Florida Department of Education, on the other hand, does not emphasize the value of mental health by concentrating so much resources and time on students' academic and athletic success.
Students spend the most of their day in school, and their mental health unquestionably affects their academic achievement. But now my questions arise: Should the U.S. Department of Education incorporate mental health education in high school curricula? What can young individuals do to take action?
Incorporating Mental Health Education in High School Curricula
According to the US Department of Education, significant investments have been made to ensure that school and community-based providers, such as certified school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and other licensed mental health professionals, are available to help students overcome non-academic barriers to academic success. However, while the US Department of Education may provide standard mental health resources, are they prioritizing them enough? Is the US Department of Education ensuring that these resources are available in all schools across the country? No, I don't think so.
Students are exposed to various necessary classes that are required for them to graduate from high school. Physical education programs educate students about the significance of staying physically fit and healthy; financial education classes teach students about budgeting and mathematics; and humanities classes teach students how to write and comprehend complex material. However, there isn't a single subject that teaches students how important it is to remain emotionally controlled and how to manage emotions in stressful situations. When a school loses a student due to suicide, however, they try to promote mental health resources. Why? Because a school cares about its reputation, but not about fostering and making awareness of issues like mental health —- unless it involves the reputation of the school. This is why prevention through education and awareness through resources is so crucial in addressing mental health issues in schools.
It is advantageous to incorporate mental health education and resources. When students are mentally stable and in good health, they excel academically and graduate on time. Mental health and academic achievement are inextricably linked, with one having a direct impact on the other. According to a report published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal, students who reported severe mental distress were four times more likely to report low academic self-efficacy and twice as likely to report delayed study progress as students who reported few or moderate symptoms of mental distress. The findings of this study suggest that students with better mental health have higher academic self-efficacy. This is where the US Department of Education should take notice and recognize that mental health in schools is a win-win situation for both students and the education board.
Other Countries Have Incorporated Mental Health into Curricula
Although the United States Department of Education does not prioritize mental health education, several other countries have incorporated it into their curricula. Finland, for example, places a high value on students' mental health. Along with their math, science, humanities, and physical education programs, Finland's Department of Education requires three mental health and emotion classes for every student to complete before graduation, which has led the country in academic excellence. Finland prioritizing students' mental health education supports the claim that improved mental health equals higher academic performance, as Finland has one of the world's best educational systems. Suicide mortality in Finland is lower than in the United States, and only 12% of young kids aged 6-18 experienced moderate or severe depression, resulting in improved academic accomplishment.
This is where the United States, as a global power, should consider incorporating mental health into the high school curriculum. But why should mental health education be included in school curricula? First, mental health education and awareness motivates children to perform academically and prepares them for careers beyond high school. Second, we teach students how to be successful young leaders. Students would learn the value of emotional intelligence and how to manage their emotions in tough times. Most significantly, we are promoting a more open-minded perspective of mental health in young people, which will help destigmatize mental health notions in the near future.
But now, my second questions arises: What can young individuals do to take action? In the mental health field, there is already a movement ongoing to incorporate mental health education into school curricula. This movement, however, needs extra forces and assistance.
We need your help!
Our youth needs our help. The future of mental health is in our hands. Let me introduce you to the key to the future of mental health: inseparable. Inseparable is a mental health organization focusing on mental health policies. Inseparable formed a coalition of 35 other mental health non-profit organizations this year, in collaboration with Mental Health America, Harvard Institute of Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Stanford University Institute of Medicine, to build hope for the future of mental health. As part of a fellowship with Mental Health America, I have the opportunity to work with the Inseparable Team and policymakers to effect policy change in the field of mental health. I strongly urge you to join our movement.
Help the Inseparable movement of improving mental health policy by strengthening both the grassroots and political power. Inseparable is a growing nationwide coalition of individuals working together to fundamentally reform mental health policy. Because better caring for each other necessitates demanding mental health policy that better cares for all of us, inseparable is taking immediate action to prevent additional people from needlessly suffering.
Here’s how you can help:
Join us in battling the stigma surrounding mental health and integrating mental health education into school curricula through policy change. Fill out THIS 5-SECONDS QUESTIONNAIRE with your contact information, and a representative from Inseparable will be in touch with you shortly. We can have an influence and change the conversation and policy about mental health if we work together. If you're with us, please include your name.
It is time we start supporting students with their mental health struggles and equip them with the resources, education, and awareness necessary to thrive and excel both: in their academic and personal journeys. It is time we start fostering a more open-minded understanding of mental health in our communities and normalize that it’s okay not to feel okay, and seek help when needed.