Mental health conversations are becoming more prevalent with less stigma surrounding the topic. The growing awareness of the challenges kids are facing at a younger age is raising the need for further education. Should mental health be taught in school to support the conversation?

According to the Centre for Mental Health, kids with mental health issues can wait up to ten years to get the help they need. Part of the delay is a lack of knowledge about what depression and anxiety feels like and what to do when facing hard emotions. Schools currently address physical and nutritional health issues, but talk less intentionally about mental health. 

When considering if mental health should be taught in schools, proponents address several findings.

Suicide Epidemic

Suicide is the third largest cause of death for ages 10-14. And, 90% of those who commit suicide have an underlying mental health condition. The causes of the mental health condition varies from bullying to other forms of abuse, but depression and anxiety lead kids to often feel they have no other way out. With better education, kids receive the help and alternatives they currently do not have to find their way out of the darkness.

Adolescent Onset

Another reason that mental health should be taught in schools is that conditions like depression are often first diagnosed during these crucial years. The CDC reports that 1 in 5 kids struggle with a mental health condition with onset ranging from age 14-24. Many of these kids do not get the help they need to navigate their way through their condition. Intentional education would encourage more kids to seek help sooner than they currently do. 

Relational Development

The adolescent years are when kids build formative relationships in their lives and learn to make friends. These years set the foundation for relational patterns for life, and when relationships go poorly, so too does a student’s mental health. Depression and anxiety emerges and it’s common for them to feel unsupported and ill-equipped through this period of time. A good mental health curriculum can help them build stronger relationship skills and more resilience for life.

Risk of Substance Abuse

When kids don’t know how to manage difficult feelings, alcohol and other controlled substances become a quick way to ease the emotional pain they are feeling. This readily accessible option makes it an often chosen escape for kids dealing with mental health issues they are not prepared to handle. When mental health is taught in school, students learn to deal with their emotions differently by making healthier choices. 

Rise of Social Media

The influence of social media on mental health can’t be ignored. This growing area of research indicates both positive and negative effects on mental health, but depression and anxiety have been regularly correlated to high levels of social media use. During adolescence, toxic relationships on social platforms can lead to destroyed reputations and discord for years to come. As mental health becomes a more regular part of the curriculum, students can make more educated social media choices. 
So, should mental health be taught in school? The evidence suggests that it should and the shift is being made in districts across the country. In July of 2018, New York became the first state to include mental health curriculum in their schools. It’s hopeful that more states will follow in the years to come.