Over the course of my school career, from elementary to high school, I have noticed a lot of students have a lack of support and knowledge within the school system regarding mental health and illness. Every once in a while, as a school we’ll have an assembly to discuss drug abuse and depression or occasionally a school wide survey about our health practices. However, the discussion rarely seems to go any further than “mental health matters.”
What is mental health? By definition, mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being. Mental health is just as important as physical health, yet we rarely really talk about it in class let alone why it’s such an important topic.
During freshman year at Westborough High School, every student is required to take one semester of Grade 9 Health and Wellness. Going into the class I thought we would cover the typical important topics like substance abuse, mental illness, and sexual health. Instead we focused on goal setting, analyzing influences, and accessing credible information. All are relevant and informative, but personally it bothered me that more time was spent on these topics rather than on our actual health. No more than one week during the semester was spent on sexual health and sex education.
I am now in my sophomore year of high school and I am still frustrated with the lack of care from WHS as a whole in regards to mental health. The SEL moments (Social Emotional Learning) and the Metrowest survey were not enough to show that the school really cares for its students’ mental wellbeing. Some of this year’s freshmen have shared that they or their peers who have struggled with mental illness, did not receive any follow up or check in from school staff after taking a ninth grade survey that wasn’t anonymous. This makes it even more abundantly clear that WHS cherry picks when to put in effort to care for its students’ mental wellness.
It is extremely irritating when the only time mental health is mentioned in WHS is when the school is required to do things such as the Metrowest survey or have teachers show a two minute youtube video about why mental health matters.
Westborough is not the only school system that lacks care for students’ mental health, this is an American school system problem as well. There is so much insensitivity and stigma involving mental illness not only in our school, but throughout every school in America.
It is not an individual teacher’s responsibility, but the school system’s as a whole to do more. I think the best way to start a conversation about depression or anxiety in WHS is to implement it into the curriculum not only in health, but in other classes when it is relevant.
In English class we read a variety of books, all of which typically discuss important issues in some way. There’s no reason why books that discuss mental illness or include main characters that have a mental illness shouldn’t be added to the curriculum.
During my Biology class this year we discussed how depression and antidepressants work within our bodies on a microbiological level. Learning the science behind mental illnesses such as depression is the first step to ending the stigma around mental health issues.
We as a school need to continue discussions about mental health that will help to educate students and even staff.
Massachusetts Mental Health Hotline: 866 903 3787
National Alliance on Mental Illness: