For too long, Western society has considered good mental health as something secondary to physical health. It’s slowly changing, with younger generations becoming more open about their struggles and taking action to give out advice to others who find themselves grappling with their own issues. But people can’t depend on unstructured, diluted information to solve the problem of mental illness.
Many sources of self-care and mental health advice come from social media, with a number of Instagram and Twitter accounts solely dedicated to self-care and mental illness-related advice. While this can be helpful to a small degree — it’s always nice to have positive messages and support — young people shouldn’t be depending on these resources as a way to cope with struggles that could be illnesses.
This is more important than ever because mental illnesses are prevalent across the country. As of today, 21.4 percent of people aged 13-18 have a diagnosed mental illness, according to a study from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Between 2004 and 2015, adolescents and young adults experienced more frequent depressive episodes, accoring to a 2016 study from American Academy of Pediatrics.
Mental illnesses usually develop between the ages of 10 to 25. So it’s crucial that we start to educate our teens and children on their own brains and how they function, especially in our fast-paced world. This isn’t to say schools should solve the world’s problem of mental health. But, they should dedicate time in their required curriculum to ensuring young Americans know about their cognitive functioning, and how to face issues when mental illnesses arise.
If someone gets a paper cut, they know to clean the wound and put a bandage on it. If it gets infected, they call a doctor and get professional help, because there’s a clear recognition that the wound can’t heal on its own. Mental health should be addressed in a similar way — adolescents and young adults should be taught when their behavior and thoughts are an issue to their health, how to seek professional help and, in the meantime, how to care for themselves.
High schools and middle schools claim the majority of the adolescent population in the United States, so they should be the most attentive to the change in mental development and provide courses in mental health as they would physical health. Colleges also have a significant population of young adults and should continue these courses on mental health and strongly encourage education on brain function. As colleges design their own communities for their students, with gyms and dining halls, so should provide comprehensive and easily accessible mental health care.
Loyola specifically struggles with providing for its students when it comes to mental health care. In a previous Phoenix article, “My experience in Loyola’s mental health system shows disorder,” the failure of the university to uphold its promise for easy access to care is exposed. Loyola students can’t have struggling students without resources to get help.
The youth is the future, and untreated mental illnesses can cause lifelong issues. NAMI’s page on mental illness stats shows untreated mental illness can lead to severe mood disorders, chronic physical illness, higher rates of school dropouts and suicide. America can’t keep pushing off the problem and letting other teens and young adults self medicate without professional intervention. It should at least teach a few coping skills people can use throughout their lives.
The first step toward a more comprehensive understanding of how mental health affects a person is to teach people how the brain works, coping methods and how to recognize symptoms.