High School Mental Health Policies

By Elisabeth Condon

There is nothing positive about mental illness, both as a phrase and as a sickness. The phrase itself has very negative connotations 2013-12-10_1959that create a stigma which prevents people from talking about the realities of mental illness rather than just the definitions we learn in health class. In a perfect world, changing the phrase would be enough to change the stigma, but that’s simply impossible. And it would be too easy. Instead, we must change the way we react to mental illness.

The biggest problem is that we don’t talk about mental illness because we’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or bringing bad things upon ourselves.

Mental illness isn’t Voldemort. It is not going to just appear if we talk about things that end with the word “disorder.” In middle school, my own struggle with self-harm and depression began. I knew it wasn’t right to hurt the way I did, but I didn’t know who to ask for help. Schools are so concerned with offending someone that they don’t create opportunities for students to share their own struggles.

Because of the way I was taught about mental illness, and my peers’ reactions to it, I thought that I was crazy, so I didn’t want to talk about it. It scares me to think that other students may be struggling the way that I did because they’re afraid to ask for help. Instead of the classic scene of a teacher standing up at the front of the room lecturing about neurons and serotonin, students should be encouraged to participate in a conversation about mental illness.

The idea that having a middle-aged person come in and show some tear-jerking video, then handing students a card with a hotline number is not effective. Students should be taught that a lot of people experience depression, rather than that it’s caused by an imbalance in serotonin levels. This way, students will feel okay about asking for help rather than being scared into submission.

My wake-up call was losing a close friend to suicide, and I don’t want that to be everyone’s reason for talking about mental illness. I want people to realize that it is nothing more than a disease of the brain, and we shouldn’t be wary of talking about it. While we may never be able to cure mental illness, we can definitely cure the way we look at it.