Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Case for Mental Health Education

We can no longer ignore mental health issues!

On September 04, 2018, I read in the news that the Selangor state government already understand its importance and they are dedicating RM1 million of their annual allocation for mental health programs. 

Selangor exco member Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud who is in charge of the health, welfare, women and family empowerment committee, revealed that a major chunk of the fund will go towards counselling sessions. She said studies purportedly show that counselling can help alleviate stress. 

I disagree. I happen to believe that both education and counselling must go hand-in-hand.

We need to be working towards a culture where mental illness is no longer the leading cause of illness around the world and where mental illness is no longer pushing people to embrace bouts of depression that they begin to contemplate self-harm. 

Mental health is something everyone should be aware of – and better still, affords us the opportunity to know who and when and where to go to in order we can re-set our lives minus the depression. 

This kind of culture shift has to begin early. It starts with young people. And the only way these kids are going to learn to treat mental health better than we’re currently doing is to educate them. 

When we empower students with knowledge, and encourage dialogue, students will be able to get the help they need – when they need it. 

After all, schools are where young people spend most of their day. It’s where friendships bloom and relationships blossom. It’s where teens discover their self-worth – whether in popularity, in studies, in sports, whatever. 

As adolescents struggle to cope with the challenges of identity development, learning to effectively respond to the emotional demands they experience from day to day is essential to their success in school, work, and social settings (Cash, 2003; Velting, Setzer, & Albano, 2004). 

Therefore, mental health issues can become obvious – and exacerbated. 

Every teenager will unavoidably have to deal with life’s stresses and pressures. It’s likely they’ll also encounter social exclusion, peer dismissal, conflicts, and bullying, amongst others. 

All the evidence suggests that the situation is getting from bad to worse. But these things are actually preventable. 

And it’s not enough to merely depend on counsellors to provide mental health support. We should know that this works only for people who directly ask for it. 

I’m suggesting that mental health education should become part of the school curriculum. 

Here, we teach the concept of self-care and responsibility for one's own mental health and wellness, with an emphasis on the fact that mental health is an integral part of health. 

And we can only do this if we take young people’s mental health seriously – instead of dismissing their issues as ‘just a phase’ or ‘teenage hormones’. 

Make mental health a priority. Treat it seriously because the teenagers dealing with mental illness are taking it gravely enough to allow themselves to get buried in depression up to the point where they may even consider ending their lives. 

It is important that students know how to recognize the warning signs of mental illness in themselves and their classmates. They are informed that mental health illnesses are common and treatable. By promoting awareness of mental health issues, we reduce the stigma around mental health. 

The final goal is to nurture a caring and supportive environment in schools, where students feel comfortable speaking up and asking for help. 

Of course, knowledge about mental health doesn’t magically stop these things from happening – but it does help us to manage them more effectively. 

Let's recognize the importance of mental health education – it is really needed! 

Will the Education Ministry consider this, please?

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