Students have been taught about health
-related issues ever since the beginning of their educations. In pre-school, for example, we were introduced to hand-washing
and kindness toward our peers. In second grade, education about street drugs
and conflict resolution became part of a standard curriculum. And as pimply seventh-graders, we were taught about shaving cream, sex
education, and the magic of deodorant.
In all of these years we have been taught how to cope with common childhood stresses, such as pressure to use drugs, problems with grades, and unhealthy relationships. We were even taught more regionally-appropriate lessons such as the danger of joining a gang or the proper set of hand signals to use when biking across an interstate highway at the age of eight. (As a student in a small-town Nebraska high school, none of that meant anything to me.)
However, one lesson that has been left out of most health curriculums throughout the k-12 years is a very relevant life skill. Considering that over one third of teens experience depression at some point during their high school years, it is obvious that mental health issues should be gradually introduced into curriculums at every age.
With the emergence in the last decade of school shootings and the 200% rise in teen suicides and depression, it is more vital than ever that depression and mental disorders in teens be diagnosed at an earlier age. That treatment should always be readily available through teachers and counselors.
But these symptoms could be avoided through information in a simple health class. According to research done by the National Institute of Mental Health, early education about the symptoms of major psychological disorders, depression, and proper living habits such as hygiene and nutrition lowers a person’s chance of developing a mental illness.
A federally funded Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that an estimated 700,000 American high school students attempt to kill themselves each year, and millions contemplate doing so.
Despite this, teen depression is usually not even diagnosed, leading to serious difficulties in school, work and personal adjustment that often continue into adulthood.
Offering even more evidence for this type of education, it is known that serious and sometimes incurable mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and social phobia usually emerge in the teenage years. Thus, the junior high and high school years are vital to the development of a healthy mind.
Education about depression, social skills, and mental diseases will not only lower the occurrence of these disorders in teens, but help them understand the people who suffer from them. If the facts and myths about mental problems can be separated and shown to the public, people who struggle with these problems will not be as alienated or misunderstood by other people. Their healing process will be shortened, returning them sooner to a normal, healthy life.
As new problems are faced, another issue always comes to mind: How will we pay for this? Some health textbooks used in grade schools already include a chapter about mental health and psychoses. For the schools that don't, the decision to purchase new books could be impractical. This should be dealt with on an individual basis within districts and cities.
This would be a great topic for a presidential debate.