The Importance of Mental Health Education in Schools

Early social and emotional development lay the foundation for resiliency throughout the lifespan. However, 70% of adults with mental illness see symptoms emerge in childhood and adolescence.

Some facts you should know…

• Mental illness affects approximately 1.2 million youth in Canada.
• By age 25, that number increases to 7.5 million (1 in 5 Canadians).
• The current generation of youth are experiencing the highest rates of mental health issues ever seen.
• Marginalized youth experience even higher rates of mental health concerns due to the intersection of several factors including violence, and poverty.

Mental health challenges are often pervasive, impacting many developmental outcomes. Poor mental health can have several detrimental effects on children and youth. Not only can it impact academic performance and success, but it may also interfere with social relationships and physical health.

Children who suffer from mental illnesses are at greater risk for adult onset physical health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They are also more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. There is no health without mental health. That is, if our youth are not mentally well, they will not be physically well and their ability to positively impact our society will be impaired. Despite an increase in the availability of mental health resources such as counselling and various treatment options, rates of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression continue to rise.

What can we do about this mental health crisis?

The solution lies, in part, in our schools.

To ensure optimum growth and development, mental health education needs to begin during early school years. During this time children form their first friendships and teenagers are shaping their self-worth and self-esteem. Growing up, youth are faced with a host of challenges including exclusion, bullying, conflict, and poor self esteem. It is important that we acknowledge and equip children with the tools needed to manage these challenges. In a combined effort between mental health professionals, parents and teachers, students’ mental health can be greatly improved, thus setting the stage for a healthier and happier future.

Some of the main reasons we, at the Stigma-Free Society advocate so hard to bring mental health education into the school are for the following reasons:

1) A primary goal of mental health education is to increase awareness. This involves teaching children what mental health means, and how to maintain positive mental health. It is vital that youth understand the concept of self-care and that they are responsible for their own mental health. In addition, emphasis should be placed on the idea that mental health is an integral part of overall health and well-being.

2) Another goal of mental health education is also to teach children, parents, and teachers how to recognize mental health related issues in themselves and others. When mental health problems are left undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and negatively affect a child’s ability to grow and learn. Along with an increased understanding of the importance of mental health, children should be provided with strategies and tools to cope with mental health challenges.

3) Early intervention of mental health issues can also make a world of a difference. Small changes in behavior and thinking often occur before major mental illness appears. These early warning signs can be noticed by teachers, family, friends, and the individuals themselves, but only if they know what to look for. Some of these signs are mood changes, nervousness, withdrawal, and a decrease in academic performance. Early intervention can reduce the severity of the mental illness. It may also delay or even prevent the development of a major mental illness.

4) Mental health awareness can save lives. This issue of suicide and self-harm among teenagers is quite alarming. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15 – 24. Bringing awareness to the symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses can help teens identify these issues and seek help before it is too late. By including education on mental health and information on how and where to access help, school can quite literally save lives.

5) Education can help serve to eliminate stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets an individual apart. These people are defined by their illness and associated to a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes toward stereotyped groups can lead to feelings of blame, shame, hopelessness, and distress. By educating our youth about mental illness, we begin to normalize mental illness conversations and the stigma surrounding it begins to dissipate.

In conclusion, the prevalence of mental illness in youth is increasing with each generation and we, as a society, have a responsibility to protect our children as best as we can.

Mental health education in schools can significantly impact students current and future mental health. It can also contribute to eliminating stigma and foster resiliency through the awareness of mental health. The benefits of this type of education is insurmountable.
Schools have the ability to promote positive mental health by building self-confidence and self-esteem. It is essential that children are taught about the importance of mental health, how to recognize signs of poor mental health, and how to seek out assistance for any mental health challenges.

By talking about mental health, we can promote greater acceptance and understanding which will in turn increase help-seeking behavior.
Mental health education in schools is extremely valuable as it can positively impact the lives of our children and youth. Please connect with us if you’re interested in bringing some mental health education to your school or classroom.

We’re happy to help you start the conversation.

Author, Cosette Leblanc, Intern, Stigma-Free Society

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