What if every fifth person in the room was visibly ill? Would one be worried about them? Would one want to try to help them? This is actually a reality, with a catch; you can’t see that people are ill.
One in five people in the US has some sort of mental illness. To let that sink in, there are 323.1 million people in America today, meaning that roughly 64 million people struggle with a mental illness daily. These 64 million people are more than the number of people that live in California, Illinois and Pennsylvania combined.
Just think about that, if 64 million people in the U.S. were struck with the flu instantaneously, we would have medical labs looking for a cure, we would be studying it and teaching about it everywhere. Yet, we have 64 million people with illnesses, very real illnesses, and little is done about it.
In the United States alone, one in five youth aged 13-18 experience a mental illness, and yet, they receive little to no education on the subject. This is partly because it’s not programmed into any curriculum, but also because more than 80 percent of teachers don’t know all of the strategies or resources necessary to educate students on mental health. Some adults like to say that children shouldn’t be burdened with something as troublesome as mental illness, but when one out of every five of them has a mental illness (an “adult problem”), is it really the best not to educate them?
Before children hit puberty, they are given extensive sexual/health education, but little to no education on mental health. Why can’t mental health education simply be included and taught alongside the health education already being provided?
When half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and three-quarters of it by age 24, why do we not explain it in the same way that we explain puberty, that we explain how drugs affect the body and mind? To me, mental health is as important, if not more important than learning about puberty. It can be a life or death situation.
We live in a world full of stigma, a world where 59 percent of adults with a mental illness did not receive treatment in the last year. One of the easiest ways to quell stigma is simply to talk. This can be done through educating the youth and making them feel comfortable talking about it, and gradually allowing it to spread throughout the masses.
Another way to make it easier is just to talk about it with someone you can trust, whether that is a counselor, a family member, or even just a friend.
Recently there have been some attempts to make mental illness a more widespread topic, most notably after the release of Logic’s song “1-800-273-8255.” The song itself is a conversation between a suicidal man (sung by Logic) and the phone operator for the suicide hotline. This song has been performed at multiple award shows and after the MTV music awards last year led to over 5,000 calls to the hotline in one day.
This is one way that, while it’s not being provided in school, information on resources to help people with mental illnesses is getting out, especially to younger Americans. This song, and songs similar to it, are important pieces of the attempt to remove the stigma from mental illness, but there is still work to do.
To ignore the facts and the problems is to leave millions of people in the dark. To not educate people on the reality of mental illness is truly to make it worse, something that we cannot afford to do.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental illness is just as real as physical illness, and we need to start acting like it. We need to start educating people, to start accepting the reality that it exists, and it affects so many people in this world.