Over the past few years, the state and federal governments have made it a priority to improve school students’ physical well-being. There have been all manner of initiatives to make lunches healthier and to make schools a safer, more welcoming environment by reducing bullying.
Those efforts are important, and should be applauded, continued and expanded. Schools should be a place where children are fed good food and feel safe. But let’s talk about the elephant in the room: mental health services.
Why isn’t students’ mental health targeted with the same intensity and seriousness as their physical health? People love to complain about all the bad things teenagers do — blowing off classes, roaming the streets and causing trouble, drinking, doing drugs. Why don’t we make more of an effort to address why these things happen?
There’s a stigma surrounding mental health services, but there shouldn’t be. Talking to a therapist or psychologist doesn’t mean a person is crazy. It’s no different than visiting a doctor when you’re physically sick.
If we as a community and a society expand our acceptance and understanding of mental health issues, it will help remove that stigma. Decades ago, people didn’t talk about having cancer because it was considered taboo. Today we discuss it freely. Being diagnosed with a serious disease these days isn’t embarrassing. People understand that in most cases, it isn’t something you do to yourself, but something you can’t control. We need a similar attitude of acceptance when it comes to mental maladies.
Students today are under more stress than ever. We should make sure they have the skills to cope with it. This is especially important because mental health isn’t just a school issue, it’s a community issue. Once students leave the structure of school life, they’re largely on their own. Young students who are taught how to relieve stress will be able to call on those skills in their teenage years and beyond, and will be less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to escape.