Mental health curriculum needs to address issues
In July 2018, New York and Virginia became the first and only two states to pose a requirement for a class focused on mental health in their state’s secondary schools.
The new law was formulated by Virginia senator, Creigh Deeds, as well as Virginia high school students who pitched the idea to him. They explained how the stigma around mental illness is so prevalent and can begin to foster the creation of inequalities among students.
In Puyallup, there are a plethora of physical health and the very vague “health,” classes offered, many required in order to graduate. But not only are mental health classes not required to graduate, they are not even offered as a course.
In freshman year, I took a mandatory health course to be able to graduate with the new Core 24 requirement that was implemented for my class of 2019 and all classes following ours. And in this health class I learned to cook healthy meals, manage my money, maintain my physical health and I learned about sexual health and safety precautions.
But there was not a time where I recall learning about my mental health and the implications that may follow if I was not to put it as a priority in my life. Another requirement to graduate is at least three semesters of a physical health course.
And again, with each class I took, I cannot recall a time where the importance of my mental health mentioned. Not was my emotional health discussed until I chose to take the Advanced Placement Psychology course during my sophomore year. In this class I learned about my brain chemistry, the interaction between one’s physicality and mentality and how intertwined they both are. I learned how closely one affects the other, and vice versa.
It was however, made perfectly clear to me that my particular school, and many others, put a higher value on physical health over mental health. Even then, the physical health courses we are “required” to take are becoming exceedingly easier to wave, for whatever the reason. Many of the mandatory, and offered, “health” courses merely include one small unit regarding the importance of mental health. While simultaneously including one big or various small, units of the importance of maintaining physical health, such as eating right and having a regular workout routine.
Now I know that maintaining physical health is very important, it is one of the most important things. However, why is it more important than maintaining one’s mental health? As I stated previously when I learned in AP Psychology how much your physical health impacts your mental and vice versa, it showed me the importance of both. Not one above the other. So wouldn’t it make the utmost sense that they both be equally represented in the school district?
However, I was very lucky that I grew up in a home where the importance of mental health was discussed regularly. With my dad being a school counselor, it was a very easy and open topic in my home. But the importance of physical health was not a general discussion had. When I went to school I heard about the importance of my physicality, so even though it wasn’t explored as much in my house, I still was exposed to the conversation in school.
I am sure that many students were not as lucky as I, growing up in a household where my mental health was put as a priority. If they are not exposed to it at home, or at school, then where does the conversation and awareness begin? Does it begin when something traumatizing happens, where we have one discussion about it and then never speak about it again?
Many schools deal with issues surrounding mental health, even Puyallup High School has not escaped these issues. Many of which were traumatizing to those who witnessed as well as to those involved. Throughout all of these events the district, never once, proposed an optional curriculum centered around mental health and included units on how to properly deal with emotions and frustrations in the most healthy way possible and on how one’s brain works.
A curriculum revolving around mental health would not only be beneficial for students to learn about their brain and emotions in a classroom setting but also begin to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. If mental health was as talked about as physical health is in schools, the mindset regarding mental health would drastically change for the better. Allowing students to recognize the symptoms of various disorders and challenges in themselves as well as in others, as well as discover places that they can seek help.
The main job of schools is to nurture and provide students with the tools and skills that they will be able to carry with them in life. However, to fully nurture students there has to not only be a balance between academics, physical health and the arts but also mental health. Students should come out of schools as well rounded as possible, ready to take on the world and with one piece of the puzzle missing it is unachievable.
Put students first.
Give students the best chance to flourish, by educating them in all areas. And all that takes, is adding the missing puzzle piece.