LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Mental health education should be required in California

In the United States, the rate of mental illness and suicide is rising.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, 20 percent of youth aged 13-18 have a mental health condition. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for this age group and 90 percent of individuals who died by suicide reportedly had an underlying mental illness. Our country’s youth are dying and something has to be done. Mental illness can go undetected because of the lack of education and information provided about mental health.

Mental health is an important subject in the realm of public health, and it should be treated as such. California needs to educate both academic professionals and students about mental health so that individuals can seek treatment sooner and not feel ashamed about living with a mental illness.

Things like sex education, tobacco, drug and alcohol education have been implemented in schools nationwide for many years. However, mental health education has been neglected in most schools where students are suffering in silence, grappling with debilitating depression, anxiety, paranoia and other mental illnesses that they do not even fully understand.

In these same halls, students are left in the devastating wake of a classmate’s suicide, or in the wake of a school whose sense of safety was threatened by yet another school shooting. These students deserve to understand what they’re feeling, know they are not alone and know how to get help.

Recently, New York passed a law that made it mandatory for K-12 schools to include mental health in their curricula. California needs to follow suit and implement a similar law to educate youth about mental health at school. Attached to this law, California needs to provide a mandatory trauma-informed care in service education for teachers. With this training, educators will be able to identify behaviors through a trauma-focused lens and provide resources, teaching styles and strategies to create a safe environment.

Early detection and intervention is imperative to promote the social and emotional well-being of our youth. In a 2016 article in the Journal of School Health, John Salerno argues that “adolescence is an opportune time to intervene on mental illness because many mental health conditions have their onset before the age of 20.”

By educating our youth, we can change how society looks and reacts to mental health. Change happens with education and we believe that talking openly about mental health from a young age can have a positive impact on the lives of young people.

Early education can lead to early detection, therefore reducing suicide rates.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the total cost of suicides and suicide attempts in the United States was $93.5 billion. Researchers at Brandeis University Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the University of Massachusetts and Education Development Center argue that psychotherapy and other interventions will lower the rate of suicides by 10 percent and an overall savings of $9.4 billion for the American economy. It would also save an estimated 4,100 lives each year. Early mental health education not only saves money, but lives.

California lawmakers need to recognize this and make changes.

Michele Rehmati

Roxana Arteaga

Lisa Alvarado

Aubrina Washington Amanda Cianci

MSW Candidates ’20