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12 Mental Health Lessons We Should Be Taught in School

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This summer, two states — New York and Virginia — officially enacted laws making it mandatory for mental health to be taught in schools.

In New York, this means the health class curriculum for elementary, middle and high school students will be updated to include mental health information. In Virginia, mental health education will be incorporated into physical education and health classes for ninth and 10th graders only, CNN reported.

While this is a step in the right direction, it left us wondering: What should we be teaching students about mental health in schools? What kind of information is important, and what do people who’ve been there wish they knew when they were growing up?

To create our own “Mighty” guidelines for teaching mental health in schools, we asked our mental health community to share one “mental health lesson” they wish they were taught when they were struggling with their mental health as a student.

One last thing: While it would be amazing if all these lessons were taught in our schools, lessons need to be met with resources. It’s not good enough to tell children they should seek help if the kind of help they need isn’t available to them. These states have taken great first steps. Let’s hope they’re willing to put their money where their new school curriculum is when it comes to making sure their mental health system is effective and accessible.

Here are the lessons our mental health community wish they were taught. School districts everywhere, take note:

1. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of other aspects of your health. 

“Mental illness is just as prevalent and serious as physical illness. Mental health needs to be discussed just like ‘physical.’ I believe these things should be taught at certain levels from young childhood just as is physical health and care.” — Annie M.

“It’s important! Just as important as your physical health! I don’t know if it’s just me, but I do not remember discussing mental health at all in school and it should be just as big a focus as our physical health. Maybe then there wouldn’t be a stigma around it not being ‘normal’ to have a mental illness if people were aware of the kinds of mental illnesses as well as the statistics of those who deal with them. I know speaking for myself again, I was very ashamed to even admit I dealt with suicidal thoughts. I thought it made me ‘abnormal.’ Only to be told by my doctor that more people deal with depression than I realize and it is not uncommon or abnormal.” — Emma G.

2. It’s OK to talk about feelings and emotions — even scary ones.

“I wish I learned that it was OK to openly talk about my emotions with others and not hide it in order to show that I am OK when I am not.” — Tatauq M.

“I wish I would have learned in school that if you have a mental health issue, don’t stay silent about it. Seek help. It is OK. People know the seriousness of mental illness and they want to help you. You must reach out.” — Shelby M.

“It’s OK to talk about your feelings and emotions, you can feel safe discussing it without feeling like you’ll be taken to a hospital.” — Megan L.

3. It’s OK to not feel happy all the time.

“I wish they had told us it was a common day-to-day struggle for people. It was something that ‘normal,’ everyday people struggle with. It’s not something to be ashamed of.” — Sandy K.

“Sometimes… it’s OK to not be OK. Life is rough and it’s alright to be stressed and tired and angry at the world. To anyone who is reading this, you are not alone. I know for myself I need to be told that sometimes too, so I want to get that out there. You are not alone, you are loved and you are important.” — Lacie M.

4. There are skills you can use when you’re struggling with your mental health.

“I wish we actually learned skills. Not just about depression, bipolar, whatever. But actually some skills. I really wish school had a DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) class. I need to learn how to handle emotions and communicate effectively. I also think seeing a school counselor should be mandatory. Gym is mandatory to be in physical shape, but no one cares if your mental health is terrible.” — Danielle H.

“Coping skills would have been amazing. Knowing that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. What to do and where to get help. How to deal with a new diagnosis. Heroes who survived. All of it would’ve helped. How to practice self-care and self-love. Even basic knowledge of depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc. would have helped a lot. Having my first episode completely flipped my world upside down. It scared me, and I lost friends over it.” — Becky R.

5. There are resources you can turn to when you’re struggling with your mental health.

“I wish they gave us resources. The first time in 2007, when I told my doctor I thought I had depression… she just shrugged her shoulders and didn’t offer any other suggestions like counseling or community programs.” — Allison M.

6. Therapy is cool.

“It’s OK to go to therapy, and it’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of. Also, that it’s a normal thing! Until college, I never told anyone that I regularly see a psychologist. Surprisingly, a lot of my friends see psychologists/psychiatrists too!” — Alex C.

7. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication.

“It’s OK to take medication for mental illness. A lot of school children think that somehow psychiatric meds fundamentally change your personality when they don’t — [they are] just like other medications.” — Victoria L.

8. Your feelings deserve to be taken seriously — even when you’re a teenager.

“Not every feeling is ‘normal teenage angst,’ and there could be something more serious going on with you. I wish it was taught in school to reach out because help is available and you don’t have to suffer alone.” — Chelsea J.

 9. Getting diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t make you a bad or dangerous person.

“That people with mental illness are not automatically dangerous and unstable. And that not all dangerous people have mental illness.” — Megan S.

“Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you are ‘crazy’ and it’s OK to seek help. Mental illness is no more shameful than any other illness.” — Desiree N.

“Just because someone has a mental illness doesn’t mean they are different from you. And just because someone looks ‘normal’ does not mean that they don’t have a mental illness.” — Katelyn S.

“This is simple, but I wish I would have learned that having a mental health issue doesn’t make you any less of a person and it definitely doesn’t make you a ‘bad’ person. Whatever mental issue you may suffer from, that doesn’t make you a bad person. Needing medication to help you function doesn’t make you any less of a person.” — Victoria H.

10. There are signs that can help you identify when you’re struggling.

“How to notice the signs in yourself and others, and most importantly how important it is to reach out and get the proper help for either yourself or a friend!” — Joanna M.

11. It’s OK to think differently.

“There is no ‘normal.’ It’s OK to be different.” — Ellie F.

“Everyone with mental illness is different. I feel like they teach you that everyone is the same. I also wish they would’ve taught us that people with mental illnesses are just like everyone else. We can do the same things. We’re all human.” — Alyssa B.

12. Mental health is more important than your grades.

“That mental health is more important than good grades or school involvement.
Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, because so many people live with it, and they live good lives. They never gave us resources or information, or even had a conversation with us about mental health. It would have made a huge difference for so many people had we learned about it. ” — Justine A.

What do you wish you had been taught in school about mental health?

Getty image via Kerkez

Originally published: July 9, 2018
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