Mental health is now apart of the curriculum at New York City schools according to news reports and I couldn’t be happier. As a psychotherapist and black woman, I see first hand the shame and stigma that comes with dealing with mental health in the black and brown communities. I’ve had elementary and high school-aged clients tell me that they are “crazy” with their head bowed in shame. People constantly go on rants against medication because they think mental health professionals want to pump them or their children with drugs. Now that mental health will be a part of the curriculum for school-aged children, it can help dispel myths before the seed is even planted for them to grow within the next generations.
“There is a crying need that we felt has been out there for many years,” New York State Mental Health Assoc. CEO Glenn Liebman said to News 10. “For 50 percent of the population, the onset of a mental health issue – anxiety, depression – is age 14. When they start to seek services could be up to age 24, so we are looking to help eliminate that gap.”
Mr. Liebman brought up a great point. With bringing mental health into school lessons, it can help normalize the conversation with our youth and give them access to services as soon as its needed. By educating them, children can also help raise awareness and shut down stigmas within their families because not only will they have the knowledge, but a different perspective about mental health as a whole.
“People are afraid to talk about mental health because of the stigma attached to it, which is really unfortunate,” Rebecca Carman, the Director of Policy and Community Development at the Shenendehowa School District, told News 10. “And the more we talk about it, the more we change our language and make it more positive.”
Changing the tone when it comes to discussing mental health is mostly important when it comes to children of color. Our community is least likely to seek mental health services but the most likely to be affected by a mental illness. The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Only one in-three African Americans who need mental health care receives it, according to the American Psychiatric Association. In a study on attitudes about mental illness among African-Americans, it was found that “participants were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, were very concerned about the stigma associated with mental illness, but were somewhat open to seeking mental health services.”
Hopefully bringing this topic to the classroom can open our people’s eyes to how important it is to stop dismissing this health issue. If you had cancer or diabetes you would make sure to seek help. We have to start treating depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses with that same attitude.