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Mental Health Education–A Vital Necessity

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As a little girl living in Peru, I remember being overwhelmed by the emotions I would feel all the time but couldn’t identify. There were many times that I thought there was something wrong with me, and I did not speak about it to anybody because, in the latine culture, mental health is a very stigmatized topic. Mental health was not talked about at school or home. Growing up, my mom always discouraged me from sharing my emotions with anybody, especially non-family members. She said, “sharing my feelings could be perceived as weak, and people could use it against me.” However, I have found that educating myself on mental health and sharing my emotions and stories has allowed me to make a change and be more assertive. 

Current law in California requires schools to identify and recommend best practices and training programs about the signs and symptoms of common youth behavioral health disorders to school staff. Yet, it does not require them to take it. In addition, current law states that if a school offers one or more health education courses, they must include mental health in the course. Again, however, it is not a mandated program for all schools. 

I did not have any mental health education growing up, and because of it, I experienced significant levels of trauma and attempted to end my life. I recently worked at the wellness center of a high school, and I could easily identify many students who didnt know about the importance of mental health. Many students, especially those who come from lower-income families, go through a lot of challenges, and it is imperative for them to learn more about how to care for their mental health because if they aren’t doing okay mentally, it affects other parts of their lives such as their academics. Students spend most of their time at school with teachers, friends, and peers. I believe it would make a significant impact if teachers could recognize the signs and help students get access to resources earlier. Teachers already make a massive impact in the lives of their students; now, they would be able to make a bigger impact by helping them achieve mental well-being, which will result in academic achievement. 

Students go through the unimaginable and are still expected to overcome the different challenges they may face. With suicide being one of the leading causes among young adults, students need additional support from their peers and educators within the school system. With the implementation of Senate Bill SB509, school districts will require staff who have direct contact with students to complete youth behavioral health training. Also, SB 509 will require students to receive age-appropriate mental health education at least once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. Stephanie is a UCR alumni with a B.A in Economics. As a latina, Stephanie has experienced the many stigmas that latine families have surrounding mental health and is extremely passionate about mental health education and accessibility.