Opinion: We need more comprehensive mental health education

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Thanks to England’s new K-12 “mindfulness” initiative, British children will likely now have better insight into their emotions than college students in the U.S.

This program aims to teach grade school children the skills needed to manage stress in a world of constant change. An initiative like this is imperative, as the grips of mental illness are becoming tighter throughout all age groups, not only children. 

The program was founded in response to the fact that the amount of children with mental health issues is rising, and the demographic is starting to encompass even younger children. Likewise, the detriment of self-harm is also affecting those of younger ages. 

“In North Carolina, which had the highest prevalence for untreated mental health disorders in kids, 72.2 percent did not get treatment,” according to Journalist’s Resource.

Additionally, a report from the U.K. found that “between 2002 and 2016, hospitals saw a 68 percent increase in the number of young people being admitted due to self-harm.” 

By teaching “mindfulness,” children will be able to develop traits such as “resilience, confidence, and self-control.” Looking closely at this trio of characteristics, one may observe that these skills aren’t just lacking in elementary-aged children, but also college students.

Plain and simple: a majority of college students have no idea how to sort out their own thoughts. As depicted by the massive displays of binge drinking and skipping class, college students have very little self control. Likewise, college campuses are unique in the sense that they are places that are considerably homogenous when it comes to age, making it an easy slate for comparing oneself to those that one is surrounded by.

Lastly, with a full-time class schedule, possibly a part-time job and the maintenance of social relationships, many college students likely find themselves feeling overwhelmed with the burdens of daily life. This may leave college kids questioning their strength and ability to function as a regular member of society, despite the fact that they are just figuring this whole “adult” thing out. Having the ability to not only understand their emotions but also how to appropriately respond to stress would be a vital tool for upkeeping the livelihood of burnt-out college kids. Unfortunately, these types of skills are not just learned overnight. Instead, they must be taught and developed over time, which is why it is crucial to implement this knowledge from a young age.

Before going into detail of just how beneficial an understanding of mindfulness can be, let’s talk about what is already being done to combat mental health issues on campus.

As of right now, most of the mental health services offered by CAPS at CU are not necessarily focused on preventative measures for students, but rather coping with trauma after it has taken place, as well as managing existing conditions. While these types of services are useful and important, there is a gap in knowing when help should be sought. There are likely many students that would benefit from mental health services, but they are unable to notice their own signs of mental illness, making it so they do not seek help. 

It should also be accounted that the free services offered at CAPS, such as workshops and a limited amount of counseling sessions, are relatively surface-level when it comes to assessing mental illness. For some, the free services may be enough. For others, their mental health issues may need deeper than surface level analysis and coping mechanisms. Many students are unable to afford more in-depth counseling services, but this is a conflict that could have likely been evaded, had mental wellness literacy been a part of their education growing up.

The instrumental aspect of the U.K.’s curriculum is the idea that “it offers more than just quick fixes,” according to Dr. Jessica Deighton, a professor of child mental health and well-being. With the rising pressures of academic competition and social media as well as the prevalence of school shootings, children are being taught how to deal with anxiety through activities such as role-playing. This will allow for a contextual understanding of stress and why it occurs, thus better-equipping children to handle similar situations later on in life. 

A few states in the U.S. have already taken initiative. Virginia and New York are among these states and are in the beginning stages of creating mental health education programs for their schools.

It’s not just the gloom and doom of the plagues of mental illness that is being taught, though. Within these programs, the values of empathy, happiness, compassion and thoughtfulness are being discussed alongside the rest. These values create a better understanding of the emotions of others. Not everyone will experience a serious mental illness in their life, but with this knowledge, they will be able to support those who do. 

While it is too late for those of us at CU to take part in this type of developmental learning, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t advocate for future generations. The world is only becoming more fast-paced, and accurate perception of mental health will be vitally important for keeping up with the innovative demands of the future.

Contact CU Independent Assistant Opinion Editor Libby O’Neall at lion1379@colorado.edu.

Libby O'Neall

Libby is a student in her second year studying Journalism and French. She is the assistant editor for opinion. Libby loves Shrek, sunshine and good music (in that order).

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