General attitudes towards mental health is better but not good enough

Joey Durkin, Managing Editor

First and foremost, it must be made clear that the good intentions behind the many undertakings to increase awareness of mental health issues are both recognized and appreciated. Having the courage to speak about sensitive, not easily understood topics such as depression and anxiety shows progression from a society that remained silent for so long. Communication is the first step toward increasing understanding and ultimately finding solutions for mental illnesses, as well as preventing those illnesses from turning more harmful than they inherently are.

“Usually, [awareness events occur] because there’s been some conversation with the school counselors, psychologists or social workers,” school psychologist Kristina Crawford said. “I think if [students] have peers say that it’s a real thing [that] you can identify with, it is received as more valid.”

People in this building, and on a grander scheme in society, are generally aware that mental health issues need to be talked about. However, many do not know how to address the issue. The result is that attempts made to raise awareness hit the target but miss the center. For example, in the recent Character Education lesson, warning signs of suicide were discussed, knowledge that is important to have. But missing from the conversation was the fear and immense difficulty of recognizing when warning signs are serious or not and the even greater difficulty of taking action. In addition to being given instructions on what to do if a friend self-harms, students should be emotionally prepared for the obstacles they may face in taking action to help a friend in need. This could be better achieved by having the information presented by people who have personal experience playing both roles in the situation.

“Not only does it seem like the school doesn’t put in effort into researching how these illnesses actually affect people, but they also don’t reach out to the student body [affected by these illnesses],” senior Izzy Turner said. “Many of whom could provide insight into how to more accurately educate other students.”

It is obvious that the junior class board and the leadership program, respectively responsible for the Character Ed lesson and planning the recent “Wellness Week,” do not believe that the cutsie remedies for stress, such as coloring, lollipops and dressing as fruits, are viable treatments for mental illnesses. But when these options are offered to a student just shaken by a mismatch between the intensity of his or her own experience and a seemingly oversimplified presentation of information, simple remedies can appear insensitive.

“You get told to drink more water, get more exercise or do some deep breathing,” Turner said. “None of this actually helps [those suffering from mental illness]. [Such generalized suggestions] invalidate the symptoms of mental illness. That’s why [depicting mental illness] so simply is hurtful and upsetting.”

Instead, simple wellness tips should be offered at a separate time from the discussion of mental illness. That way, advice more relevant to the discussion, such as therapy and other valuable resources, can be offered.

“Having access to counseling services generally helps the most,” Crawford said. “There is research that shows that the best thing to do is a combination of medication and therapy. Different people may take longer to benefit from them, but generally speaking most people don’t need lifelong therapy.”

We all want awareness. And while the first step of communication has been taken, we need to continue to move forward by improving the content. People who have personally experienced mental illness need to be more involved with the process of raising awareness, be it as presenters or, if they are understandably more private, as sources for questions to ensure there are no unintended effects. Progress is being made toward a more universal understanding of mental health, and our generation should take the lead in ensuring that this be done with sensitivity and respect.