Mental illness: two words that when put together sound… scary, weird, even crazy. Those two words put together will have people give you a look of confusion as if something is wrong with you and they can see it on your face. Those two words have a stigma attached to them that MUST end.
The only time there seems to be a national discussion about mental illness is when the media is using it as an excuse for someone shooting up a movie theater, concert, church, or school. It is always used as an out for someone’s evil actions. That, too, must stop.
Around 29% of adults and 20% of children have experiences with mental health problems each year. Many people who have those experiences do not seek the treatment they need in order to live a healthy and happy life.
When I was a child, it was considered going against God to talk to a therapist or take medication for a mental illness. You would hear, “honey, you better pray to God about that,” “you don’t need medicine,” or “that kind of medicine is for crazy people.” Mental illness portrayed on television, the media, and magazines will ignite fear in you and have you judging and discriminating against people who struggle with a mental illness daily. These stigmas cause people to not seek help or feel hopeless, oftentimes resulting in suicide.
The thing people fail to realize or acknowledge is that there are physical characteristics of mental illness. It affects your whole being. Mentally you are confused and/or fearful; emotionally you’re drained, hopeless; physically your body is in pain. What’s worse is that it also affects the people who love and care about you, be it family, friends, colleagues, etc.
Seeking help can make a enormous difference in the life one lives. Research shows that the earlier someone seeks treatment, the better their outcome. I know had I obtained treatment as a child, handling my mental illness as an adult wouldn’t be as tough as it is. Sadly, the mental health of children is worsening. We have to acknowledge children as a whole being and not think of them as incompetent when it comes to their feelings. Dr. Lopez stated at ISTE in Chicago this summer that one adult can hinder the progress of a child. Don’t be that adult.
So, what can we as educators do to attack the stigmas of mental illness that have culturally and recklessly harmed our students, our loved ones, friends, and even ourselves? Chris Brownson suggests we:
- Train teachers and student peers on how to recognize signs of distress in others and what to do about it (telling someone, for example).
- Remove barriers for students thinking about seeking help (by funding and training school counselors to prioritize helping students beyond just class scheduling and administering testing).
- Allow and encourage school counselors to do primary prevention such as stress management, emotional regulation, and teach the importance of help seeking for students. Teaching these life skills is as important as any subject that students learn about in school, they are skills for life!
This summer, a post written by Youki Terada on Edutopia entitled Burnout Isn’t Inevitable resonated with me. He stated that “we as a society need to consider methods that create nurturing school environments not just for students, but for the adults who work there”. We put a lot of emphasis on the mental health of students while neglecting the mental well being of the men and women who, along with their parents, shape the people they will become. Mental Health is a global topic that even when mentioned, is stigmatized.
Taylor Armstrong and I will be moderating a monthly #edchat beginning October 10, 2018, which is World Mental Health Day, on mental health. I contacted Taylor about this idea this summer because he tweets about ending the stigma and the significance of seeking help when needed. He would tag me to those posts, which is part of the reason they caught my attention. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I am a person who lives with a mental illness. I know the signs and have seen them in my classroom as well as others. I am an advocate for ALL children. Those who are told they are crazy, who have fear of speaking out due to judgement, those who are neglected or mistreated, and those who don’t understand what they are enduring and suffer in silence get left behind because championing for them can be trying. I will forever be a warrior for those children.
We have an opportunity to #endthestigma of mental illness by educating ourselves, family members, and educators, empowering school counselors who now have tasks put on them that keep them from doing addressing the needs of students, and leading by example. It is important that we bring awareness to mental illness and address it in our homes, in our schools, and on social media.
Join Taylor and I on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at 8 PM CST to #smashthesilence!