Back to School – mental health is on the agenda this year
Back to school night has come and gone. My children attend two different schools – lower and middle school. There were many similarities with back to school night. Both heads of the schools talked about how important their summer experiences having unplugged and spending some time in nature. In addition to the emphasis on academics for the upcoming year, this year mental health was an important theme. Each school approached it a little differently, as you might expect based on age and development, but I wondered – how do they define mental health and how will that translate in the minds of my kids?
Mental health is not a foreign concept at our dinner table. My husband is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. His patients, if the right age, often know our children and our children have just accepted that he knows lots of people their age. At one time or another, he has visited their classrooms and explained psychiatry as a thoughts, feelings, and behavior physician. In their world, he is also serves as a stand-in pediatrician for their cuts and bruises – so they know he prescribes medication and went to medical school. They know that people who suffer from mental illness – we call it mental distress and dysfunction – look like everyday people. But what do other people think? How do the schools define mental health? They didn’t tell us, but I look forward to hearing more about it over the school year.
My hope is that they work to eliminate the stigma of many of the mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. I hope they inform parents as well. Mental health was not a diagnosis when I was growing up, but certainly there were people who suffered with mental health issues. We all live in a society where the stigma around mental illness can stop us in our tracks. It’s far more serious than a lack of understanding. Two of my children are treated with medication for anxiety. My youngest daughter jumped at the chance to take her worries away with a pill. I know what it looks like untreated – I have several family members who could be poster children for untreated anxiety. I am often open about her treatment, but it scares other parents. I am not sure if the alarming part is that I name a mental illness out loud or I admit to treating it with medication. I do know that my husband, who is not her treating psychiatrist, worked with me on the decision to treat – I wanted to wait, and we did until I recognized that nothing I said or did (including therapy) could alleviate her suffering. My husband does not often say “I told you so”, but he knew better and I didn’t want to hear it; nobody does.
So far, and the school year is just a few weeks old, I don’t know what the program will be for students, parents or teachers. But I am optimistic.
Here is an informative website to learn more about awareness and promotion of mental health: