Expanding mental health education in high school

Expanding mental health education in high school - Northern Star

Conversations surrounding mental health have become destigmatized, which is an important step in educating individuals about mental health. However, the grade-school education system fails to address mental health concerns on many occasions, and it needs to change.

Throughout high school, mental health is often addressed as a topic within a class, perhaps spending a day or two on it. The truth is, brains are complex, and keeping our minds healthy is important. Our school system needs to treat the brain the same way they treat other health problems.

Students taught about mental health in schools were found to be more empathetic and sensitive to mental health, according to a 2018 study published by Cambridge University Press.

Adding classes to high school that focus on mental health and wellness can be beneficial to students, especially in high school — one of the most stressful times in a teenager’s life.

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Michelle Demaray, a professor of psychology at NIU, discusses the benefits of discussing and understanding mental health.

“Yeah, I’m a big believer that we need to talk more with youth as they grow and develop and high school, you know, middle school, high school, college about mental health because because it’s a big issue for so many people,” said Demaray. “And to have more knowledge and ideas and strategies for improving your mental health can support and prevent children as they grow and develop.”

There are strategies for talking about mental health, and they vary based on one’s relationship with the individual who is struggling, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Talking about feelings is important, and high schools need to do a better job of facilitating those kinds of conversations. Because of the stigma that still exists around mental health, it is the job of education to prepare students for their adult lives.

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“I think this (a high school mental health class) will help them a lot in life because these are skills they can use throughout life,” Demaray said.

Placing greater emphasis on coping skills and mental health is beneficial for students because of its practicality. By 2021, 5.8 million people will have an emergency hospital visit for mental health reasons, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Health Prevention.

High school students need to be able to control their own emotions, as well as help their friends talk about their feelings. On more sensitive topics such as self-harm or suicide, students may feel embarrassed and need strategies to help.

“High schoolers may not want to talk to their parents, and they may be nervous talking to professionals,” Demaray said. “So, if you talk to kids more, they can help each other because when we’re in middle school and high school, we care about our peers.”

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Middle and high school students can be notoriously bad. Schools must work to equip all their students with the necessary tools to help themselves and their peers.

Protecting and advocating for mental health is an important skill that should be taught to students at the high school level. The transition to college or the working world can be overwhelming, and developing strategies for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression are essential to success.

Teaching high school students, along with all K-12 students, more about their own mental health can help promote a healthier society.