Shaker’s view on our mental health education system.

Kilah Tabatsky, Writer

Do you know the signs and symptoms of the most common mental illnesses?  Do you know what the most common mental illnesses are? It’s very possible that you may not know these things. Mental illness is something that affects us all, either directly or indirectly.  In the United States 1 in 6 children/teens and 1 in 5 adults suffer from mental illness. Why is it that we don’t know the details of something that affects so many of us?  

 There isn’t one simple answer to that question. One major factor is mental health education in schools, or rather the lack of it.  Health teachers in Shaker High School work hard to ensure that every student has an adequate education about mental health, but in many cases this is more difficult than it seems.

Mandatory mental health education occurs in health class, a class which is taken for a semester, half a year, in 7th and 8th grade. A 20 week course in high school is required for graduation, this course may be taken at any point in high school,  even the last semester of senior year.There are other classes and educational resources available to students, like a psychology elective, but these are optional resources. Health classes teach students about recognizing the signs of mental illnesses, and how to work through struggles relating to their own mental illnesses, but they also make students aware of further resources available to them at school.  

Mrs. Bogart and Mrs. Rauche,Shaker High School’s health teachers, work hard to ensure that their curriculum gives students a comprehensive understanding of a variety of mental health related topics.  Both teachers say that they focus specifically on mental health for two to three weeks, that they also incorporate emotional wellbeing into other topics like eating healthy and exercising. Although the two teachers have slightly different curriculum and place emphasis on different topics, they both teach students very important lessons.  Mrs. Bogart says that she emphasises the difference between sadness and depression, and the difference between being depressed and being suicidal. She also makes sure her students know how to recognize this difference, and signs of other serious emotional struggles, in their peers, along with what resources are available to them if they or a peer need support.  Mrs. Bogart, along with Mrs. Rouche, spend time discussing loss and the process of grieving, and how all healthy grieving does not look the same. Mrs. Rouche uses self-reflective journaling to help students gain a deeper insight into their own emotional state and how outside factors like social media, pressure from school, and the culture one lives in can affect one’s emotional state.  She gives students positive coping strategies to navigate their emotions, and at the end of the semester she allows each student to focus on a specific mental illness to make a project on. Both teachers also make sure their students are aware of every resource available to them, like the school psychologists, school counselors, and interns that work within the counseling center.

Our health teachers here at the high school truly care about what they do, but it can sometimes be difficult to properly educate students. The simple fact that health class can be taken at any point throughout high school makes it hard because students can spend most of their high school years unaware of the resources surrounding them.  In fact, many students don’t take health class until junior or senior year. No matter how effective the curriculum is, if a student isn’t learning about how to deal with the stress of high school and what resources are available to them until senior year they aren’t going to be able to use those resources throughout most of high school.  It is true that students who really need those resources will probably seek them out and find them, but every student at Shaker High School deserves to know of everyone that’s there to help them, regardless of whether or not they need that help. Another issue that teachers can run into is time constraints. Both Mrs. Bogart and Mrs. Rouche say that they have enough time to teach the basic facts that every student needs, but that further educational resources should be available to students who want or need them.  Mental health, like physical health, is something that everyone should always be aware of and maintaining. Mental health is just as complex of a topic as physical health, and its complexities and nuances can’t be taught completely in 2 to 3 weeks.

Active Minds is a nationwide club that works to destigmatize conversations about mental health and educate the public, and Shaker High School has a chapter.  Mrs. Bogart is the advisor and the club currently meets on Tuesdays in K214. The North Colonie district is opening a wellness clinic which will be run through the high school. More information should be coming out soon.  The guidance department has plenty of mental health resources as well. You can email your guidance counselor or go into the guidance department to schedule an appointment with one of the many people working in the guidance department.  If you’re worried about a friend, you can tell them about these resources or go to any trusted adult and tell them your concerns. When it comes to friends, the most important thing to remember is that if you’re unsure it’s always better to tell someone than to not.

Our generation is the generation of taking control, of making an impact on the world, no matter what the adults think we’re capable of. We are absolutely capable of changing the way our school, and our society views mental health.