As our understanding of mental health evolves, so too does the rate at which we are diagnosed with various forms of mental health disorders. Those disorders can include everything from depression and anxiety disorders, to personality disorders, schizophrenia, and autism.
Rather than holding off until we’ve reached the height of our mental development when we’re somewhat more prepared to handle them, many of these conditions are with us from birth or begin to manifest early in life. In fact, half of all mental illnesses have already manifested by the age of 14 according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Dr. La’Tesha Sampson, the CEO of Great Joy Counseling and Consulting Services, which provides treatment for people with conditions such as depression, ADHD and PTSD, says those findings underscore the need for far more robust mental health education in our public school system.
Eliminating the Mental Health Stigma
One of the most compelling reasons for introducing mental health education at an earlier age is to help reduce the stigma that can be associated with having any of these conditions says Dr. Sampson, who currently serves as a professor at both the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and the Kean University Department of Social Work.
The sooner young individuals are exposed to learn the mechanisms behind why these conditions develop and how common they are, the easier it will be for them to understand context. As a result, they’ll be able to interact with individuals who have been diagnosed with greater empathy and compassion, as opposed to the revulsion and fear that often accompany ignorance.
Today’s Youth Will be More Open to Seeking Treatment
By removing the stigma of these conditions through early education, we can further ensure that youth will likewise become more open about considering the presence of mental illness in their own lives and monitoring for its symptoms, which could include mood changes, a decline in cognitive and/or social functioning, or even a growing apathy towards their life.
In that way, today’s youth will be more inclined to reach out for the treatment they may desperately need and address their mental health challenges as quickly as possible, improving their chances for better outcomes.
Address Pharmaceutical Drug Use
La’Tesha Sampson further stresses that early mental health education should play a prominent role in teaching young individuals about the role of pharmaceutical drugs in treating many of these conditions.
Rather than being groomed to become passive participants in their own medical story who simply do what their doctor tells them, young people should be empowered through education to take some measure of control over their medical destiny by considering the benefits and dangers that pharmaceutical treatments or other interventions might pose.
Considering the extreme rates of pharmaceutical dependence in the U.S and the often devastating side effects and addiction that dependence can cause, it’s vital that youth have a full understanding of what they’re getting into and what some of the alternatives might be.
La’Tesha Sampson urges all parents to reach out to their local school districts about building a curriculum that places an appropriate level of emphasis on all aspects of mental health, which could prove to be some of the most important education they are ever given.
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Written by: Dr. La'Tesha Sampson