Mental illnesses are on the rise among adolescents. As mental health advocates try to remove the stigma around it, more clinical diagnosis is appearing. Thirty years ago, anxiety and depression were barely known, diagnosed or discussed. Now, these two illnesses, are flooding among the youngest generations as a huge number of teenagers identified mental health as a major issue among their peers.
This number, revealed by the Pew Research Center, is higher than bullying, drug addictions or gangs. Due to the high number of identified adolescents, public schools should have an active role in prioritising students’ mental health. The mental health funding is imperative as the school psychologists are mainly overloaded or some of these institutions don’t even have one.
Public education relies on the funding of the governments and that depends on which country we are talking about. Some countries invest more in education than others. However, the need for psychologists in school doesn’t depend on countries but on the universal need of nurturing a healthy mental state to the future generations.
Let me explain three ways of how schools can provide cost-effective methods to improve their students’ mental health
1. Invite mental health advocates to visit schools
The majority of schools have prioritised programmes based on drug abuse and sexual life. Even though both are important for the students to be aware of, schools fail to understand what might be behind drugs abuse behaviours or premature pregnancy: mental illness. If the educational institutions don’t tackle the causes of the abuses, students will never learn how to cope and have the skills to overcome anxiety and depression.
Emotional wellness is the path to a good education and formation of future healthy adults. Inviting mental health advocates to share stories or develop mental health-based programmes can impact, in a positive way, students suffering from mental illness, leading to academical success.
2. Arrange meetings with private counsellors during the school day
Cuts in funding may lead to decrease of support from the staff of the school. To turn around this situation and not neglect students’ mental health, schools can think about providing private counsellors to visit the institutions. If the schools allow it, clinician’s schedules would be totally fulfilled, and the school wouldn’t need to pay because the counsellors would use the students’ insurance for payment.
Taking the time of a class, 30 to 45 minutes a week wouldn’t hurt either the students or teachers. This is meant to address funding gaps and not sacrifice the mental health of the youngest generations. Some parents don’t have also the possibilities to take the kids during the day to private counsellors, so this way schools would only allow the benefit of both parties.
3. Flex blocks of time
The 21st-century speedway of life is not new for anyone. Stress exacerbates the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they are caused by the frenetic rhythm of life. Students, nowadays, are over-scheduled. They have daily classes, plus extracurricular activities, homework, exams, jobs, driving licenses, etc. Flex time can be used to engage in non- curriculum activities, such as seminars and counselling, without missing any academic responsibilities.
Group therapy, organisational skills sessions, horse riding, and cooking or dancing classes are a way to make this work. It is important to understand that mental well-being is not an initiative but a need. For students suffering from mental illnesses, academic success will be unattainable if their mental health isn’t addressed.
Simply ignoring the problem just because the funding is not enough won’t make the problem go away. There has been a shift in how generations need to be educated. What worked many years ago, now needs a change. We live under a new era that demands immediate and different action towards the future of the generations. Educating healthy children will turn the world a happier place and educational institutions should look into reorganising the priorities of the school systems.
Inês Marinho is a mental health advocate from Portugal.
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