Nowadays, you hear a lot about mental health awareness. Whether it’s in the news, on social media, or in school. Even the whole month of May is dedicated to it. But while we are always told that is important, we are never really told why it is important. Why mental health awareness is important was the question that the Mental Health Awareness Club at Ridgewood High School set out to tackle this May. Why were we using our time to talk about this? And why specifically should it be talked about in schools?
First, we can look at the facts. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 6 youths in the United States experience a mental illness or mental health disorder each year and according to the World Health Organization, half of all mental disorders start before age 14. So, it is clear that there are many people in the world and many of our peers who experience a mental illness in some form. Talking about mental health can help those suffering in silence understand that they are not alone in their struggles and allow them to feel compassion and understanding. Additionally, according to Mental Health America, 60% of teens in the United States with depression did not receive any mental health treatment and, even in states with the most access to mental health resources, 1 in 3 teens went without treatment. Mental health awareness can also inform those struggling with the resources at hand, as they can be intimidating, and help them understand the benefits of those resources, hopefully lowering these statistics.
But looking at the numbers only tells part of the story. To get a personal perspective on this question, I asked the members of the Mental Health Awareness Club for their thoughts. “We have to be vigilant about watching other people and ourselves,” Holly said, “By being aware of our mental health in high school and knowing the basics, we can better help our peers and be better friends and better supporters. And knowing about mental health can also help further ourselves and support ourselves.” Haley had a different perspective, choosing to focus more on the health aspect. “It [mental health] affects every part of your life. It affects your physical health and your social health. Good mental health and positive coping mechanisms are the foundation of living a healthy lifestyle.” Juliana took the question in a more broader sense, thinking about how mental health awareness affects the larger world. “If everyone was able to take care of their own mental health and spread that positive energy, the world would be a better place.” All of these reasons are important and all make it clear that mental health awareness is vital. It’s not something only to be taken seriously during a pandemic or during one month of the year. Truthfully, we all know someone struggling, it may even be ourselves, but regardless of the individual, that person must know that they are cared about, supported, loved, and not alone. It is time to break the stigma surrounding mental hygiene and that starts in the classroom.
For Mental Health Resources at the High School visit: https://sites.google.com/ridgewood.k12.nj.us/schoolbasedmentalhealth/home
Graphic: Sunny Rhew