I’ve always thought that a person is made up of mostly their genetics but as I grew older I watched my friends turn into adults and I’ve learned that nurture makes us who we are, while nature only contributes to the health barriers or blessings we have to face. With so much evidence and research behind how our childhood shapes us as adults, it’s scary to see that children can still face bullying, abuse, hunger, and poverty. But, what scares me the most is the lack of education we give to our youth about their mental health.
Instead of offering the console of our youth and teaching them to reach out when they are suffering from mental health problems, youth are forced to learn how to reach out for help and are faced with the stigma of therapy itself. This is absolutely unacceptable in today’s modern society. We are learning more and more from evidence-based research that our youth are suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc. It frightens me that the school curriculum has a space to teach kids about sex, and drugs but when it comes to mental health they are met with nothing but silence.
Our kids are taught how to type rather than practical life skills such as doing taxes, sustainability, the history of social justice resulting in our freedom today, what a mental illness is, what being gay or transgendered means, and what mental health is. We shouldn’t be sheltering kids from these facts of life because no matter what we tell ourselves they live in the same world as us and often have to deal with the same barriers.
Percent of families who found it extremely difficult to find MH help...
Percent of children who are unaware of where to go when MH help is needed...
Percent of mental illnesses onset during childhood...
When I was younger my teachers would often say “when you’re in the real world” and I always got offended (little Borderline Zee showing himself!) because we were in the real world and it didn’t matter our age because we had to deal with hardships and pain almost as much as adults. Growing pains didn’t just relate to physical changes but becoming self-aware of our emotions, learning how to treat ourselves and others with respect, and learning that sometimes we can’t control what happens to us. Sadly, even in the first world, some kids are born into poverty, abuse, homelessness, and go hungry. Some kids will still experience mental illness, hunger, drugs, and death. It is our responsibility to recognize that kids can be exposed to the dangers of life because they don’t live in a bubble, as much as we want them to. We have to take the responsibility to teach them how, when, and where to get help when they need it. They need to understand the basics of their emotions and why they feel that way and learn when to reach out for help.
Coping is a basic skill we can add to the curriculum. I never knew what coping was until I was hospitalized and by that time it was too late, I had already found peace within negative coping outlets. People often argue that coping is only for those who are mentally ill and young children shouldn’t have to deal with such graphic things when they don’t have to. I challenge this thought because coping is a skill that every single person in today’s world should understand. Coping isn’t just for those who are mentally ill, coping is a skill that helps us deal with situations. For example; we teach young girls about having their period in the current health curriculum and we teach them how to cope with that by using the proper hygienic products. We need to grow the curriculam to include how to cope with events, situations, problems, and the emotions of life. Coping can literally be used in all pretences of life and there is no logical reason to avoid teaching this basic self-awareness skill.
Percent of children suffering alone due to MH stigma...
Trigger warning for this paragraph: graphic self-harm cutting and OCD tendencies.
I was a kid in the 90’s so we usually dealt with our feelings by shutting them down or acting out. We didn’t have the outlet of social media, schools didn’t have guidance counsellors, mental illness and being gay was still taboo. The following two examples are real-life examples from when I was a child of where mental health education in the school system could have made an immense impact. *names are changed for confidentiality*
Pam* was struggling with depression in 6th grade. She was 11 years old and always wore black, the kids made fun at her school because she would always sit in a dark corner not talking to anyone. She put up a wall and wanted people to be scared of her as a way to protect herself, but she was really terrified inside. She had been self-harming at a mid-degree for several months but always covered up the marks on her wrist. One day, someone saw a scar and the word spread around the school that she was “weird” and “mental” because she cut herself purposely. Kids wouldn’t talk to her, people would stare, and the teachers just waved it off. Several weeks later she held a pair of scissors and someone asked her to show them how she cut herself, and she did and then she was sent to the doctor for stitches in the middle of class.
“I’m Kidding Thing”…
Patrick was struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in 4th grade. He was 9 years old and it took him over 45 minutes to go to bed at night and over 25 minutes to leave for school in the morning solely for his “I’m kidding thing”. Patrick had to tap his left foot to the floor last before getting into bed, he had to close the blinds so they showed absolutely no light from outside, he had to blink 100x while looking straight at two plastic stars on his ceiling before closing his eyes to go to sleep. In the morning he had to organize his stuffed animals and pillows in exactly the proper position and with the proper hand movements before he could get out of bed, he had to turn off the lights 7x before leaving every room he entered and had to look at the toaster, oven, and front door with a specific eye movement before leaving for school…as you can see it took him a very long time to really do anything, and this wasn’t perfectionism, this was obsessive and intrusive thoughts. I say he ‘had’ to do these things because that’s how he felt. He had intrusive thoughts telling him his worst nightmares would happen if he didn’t complete these tasks. If something wasn’t completed 100% perfectly he had to repeat the phrase “I’m kidding, it’s not even funny how much I’m kidding, I’m kidding” in his head 3x while rubbing his hands. Patrick asked his friend, Autumn, if she “ever had to do things to avoid bad things from happening?” and she replied, “That’s weird, don’t say anything to anyone or they’ll think you’re crazy.”
Both of these situations would have been an appropriate time to teach children about mental health and could have saved several years of suffering.
My main point of this article is to help adults realize just how important and essential our role as caregivers really is. What we expose kids to is incredibly important. Children are not born racist, homophobic, or sexest…they are taught to be those things. Imagine how beautiful the world could be if we taught kindness, acceptance, and understanding.