I’m sure the reasons aren’t too difficult to figure out without reading any further. Depression and anxiety among children and teens are on the rise, the pressures created through social media are looking our younger generation in the face every moment of every day. School curriculums are becoming more stringent, and the list goes on. Isn’t that enough to answer the question as to why mental health should be taught in schools?

Some cold, hard facts.

The start of many mental health conditions most often occurs in adolescence. Half of individuals living with mental illness experience onset by the age of 14. This number jumps to 75% by the age of 24. One in five youth live with a mental health condition, but less than half of these individuals receive needed services. Undiagnosed, untreated or inadequately treated mental health conditions can affect a student’s ability to learn, grow and develop.

Physical education became compulsory in schools over 100 years ago and is continually being improved in terms of teaching children about the value of nutrition and exercise and financial education has recently been deemed important lessons to cover. PE lessons are compulsory in schools, because we view physical health as a crucial thing our children need to know about. We teach them about eating healthily, staying fit. And we couldn’t agree more – both are very important! As a county, recognize both financial awareness and physical health as areas in need of greater education to create a sustainable future for our young people. That’s fantastic, but there is still a gaping hole in our curriculum, which has a potentially huge impact on society for generations to come.

Mental illness, particularly depression, has been predicted to be one of the major health burdens of the coming decades. Considering that depression is one of the main causes of chronic illness in the developed world, it baffles us that we are still not arming our children with a very important, arguably the MOST important, tool to help navigate them through their adult years. That is to give children and young people an understanding of their mental health.

As we touched on above, life is more confusing for young people growing up now than it was 50 years ago. Freedom of choice, juxtaposed with high competition for jobs, more pressure than ever before to decide what you want to do in life, early in life, and on top of that a million different information sources and stimuli that could overload even the most mature brain, let alone one still trying to process the world around them. (phew!) So shouldn’t we be equipping our children with the tools they need to deal with this spaghetti junction of different influences.

Schools are where young people spend most of their day. It’s where friendships happen and where relationships form. It’s where teens find their self-worth – in popularity, in sports, in achievement. And it’s where mental health issues can become obvious – and exacerbated.

There’s a growing emphasis on schools providing mental health support. But in the majority of cases, this comes in the form of support only for children who directly ask for it.

Who is making an effort?

Organizations like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) understand that schools are stretched very thin. They support increased funding to train school faculty and staff on the early warning signs of mental health conditions and how to link students to services. Funding would also allow school-based mental health professionals to coordinate services and supports between schools and the community mental health system.

Mental health is something that everyone will have to deal with at some point in their life, whether in terms of getting help with mental illness, helping someone else, or dealing with stressful moments and challenges. Schools need to be portraying mental health as equally important and crucial as physical health (because it is) – and that starts with making mental health education a compulsory part of education across all schools.
Without being taught about the reality of mental illness – how dark, scary, and alone it feels – kids won’t understand the impact that ‘just being kids’, whether that’s bullying, slut-shaming, or spreading rumors, can actually have. They won’t understand that our empathy, kindness, and care can have life or death consequences.

And the only way kids are going to learn to treat mental health better than we’re currently doing is to educate them. We hope parents are doing so inside the home, and we believe it’s time to start outside the home, too.

How would you like to see mental health taught within your child’s school?