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How My Life Would Have Been Different If I Had Mental Health Education in High School

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In high school, everyone has their worries and fears.

Every teenager overthinks what to wear and what people think of them. Almost every teenager worries about college and stresses over school work while trying their best. So as a high school student, I always thought I was like every other teenager.

I thought it was normal to swallow back the puke every morning on the school bus as I was worried about getting to my locker on time. I thought it was normal to worry so much at 15 years old that my hair started to fall out. I thought it was normal to think my friends would just up and leave me one day. I thought it was normal to worry so much about college I would cry almost every day and spend my time leaning over the toilet, throwing up.

As I continued to college, I thought the worries of being a teenager would go away, but I was quick to realize that was not the case. My worries and fears stayed and new symptoms popped up. I found myself secluded in my dorm room in fear of socializing with new people. I experienced my first panic attack and found myself waking up not being able to breathe far too often. I was in a foreign land and was homesick. I had many sleepless nights. I thought everyone I met was talking badly about me. I was stuck in my own thoughts which would not go away.

Colleges seem to be more concerned about students’ mental health than high school is. You see signs displaying the counseling available and other resources of people to talk to in the dorm hallways. I started to question if my worries were something I needed to worry about. I took some psychology classes where mental health was finally introduced. I did some researching myself and found I had many signs of anxiety. It started to make some sense.

After two years away at school, I quickly found out I could not do it any longer. I found myself in a small room by myself, unable to breathe, with the feeling the walls were closing in. I called my mom crying, said I could no longer do it anymore and I came home. I was lucky to be able to transfer to another school and commute from home.

I spent the next couple of years finding ways to relax as much as I could, finding ways to distract my mind to the best of my ability. Finally, at a doctor’s appointment, I had to fill out a worksheet. This worksheet had a list of symptoms and it asked if I ever experienced some of these symptoms and how often they occurred. One after another, I viewed these symptoms as a part of my daily life. My doctor reviewed the worksheet and for the first time, someone external from my personal life mentioned to me about seeing a counselor. Even after thinking I had anxiety for so long, this referral made it so much more real.

High school health class teaches students about safe sex, the dangers of drunk driving and drugs. But why is mental health never a focus in high school health classes? If health classes taught about mental health, I would have realized it was not OK to swallow back the puke every day. I would have realized it was not “normal” to have my hair falling out at such a young age or to believe that one day my friends would decide to hate me. I would have realized it was not OK that the thought of college would make me physically ill. I lacked in self-confidence in high school and I believe if I had this education then, my confidence would have been greater. I would have realized what I was experiencing and feeling was something I should be concerned with, and not every teenager felt this way every day. I would have been able to get some help.

I have been out of high school for five years now, so I am not sure how high school health classes are or if they have changed. I hope they now offer mental health education because mental health is just as important as understanding the signs of the flu. Mental health education could help students understand themselves and their loved ones.

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Originally published: May 3, 2017
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