What is mental health literacy and why is it important to educate teens about mental health?

Based on a recent study from the Journal of Adolescent Health, adolescents with mental health symptoms are twice as likely to drop out compared to peers without. According to the Mental Health Association in NYS, youth ages 16–24 with mental health illnesses are four times less likely to be involved in activities like employment and college. This is why I started to work on my recent startup FloraMind with two of my closest friends Mahmoud Khedr and Danny Tsoi. We started a movement to improve mental health literacy and well-being for the youth.

Here are some shocking stats on the status of youth mental health by the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

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So, what is mental health literacy?
Mental health literacy is having knowledge about mental disorders by recognizing specific mental disorders, their cause, and knowledge of how to access mental health services. According to Anthony Jorm, a pioneer of mental health literacy:

“Mental health literacy is not simply a matter of having knowledge (as might be conveyed in an abnormal psychology course). Rather it is a knowledge that is linked to the possibility of action to benefit one’s own mental health or that of others.”

Mental health literacy consists of several components which were created to overcome growing obstacles to mental health and address social stigma and prejudice. These components include:

1. Recognizing Mental health disorders such as signs and symptoms 
2. Knowledge of risk factors: knowing what factors put individuals at greatest risk for specific mental health disorders
3. Knowledge of self-treatment: knowing how someone can help themselves 
4. Knowledge of how to seek and access mental health information

Did you know that 50% of Mental Health illness starts at 14?

Through my research, I realized mental health disorders are a huge issue for the youth.

According to the National Institute of Mental health, “3.1 million teens suffer from mental health issues yearly.” There are more statistics such as, “1 in 12 teens with a mental disorder attempt suicide”. These stats are disturbing, hence why it’s important to educate our teens about mental health and show them how they can access help.

Why is it important to educate teens about mental health?
As we all know, stigma is a huge issue when it comes to mental health. There are two forms of stigma on this topic: social stigma and self-stigma. According to 
Psychology Today:

46% of these adolescents described experiencing stigmatization by family members in the form of unwarranted assumptions (e.g. the sufferer was being manipulative), distrust, avoidance, pity and gossip, 62% experienced stigma from peers which often led to friendship losses and social rejection, and 35% reported stigma perpetrated by teachers and school staff, who expressed fear, dislike, avoidance, and under-estimation of abilities.

This is why we should be teaching every teenager how to understand their emotions, including mental disorders from a young age. Being aware of these feelings is nothing to feel ashamed and could help young people to open up more and prevent them from developing into something more serious in later years. It will help students and teachers recognize the signs of a potential problem.

Let’s look at this from a different angle. Physical education lessons are mandatory in schools because we view physical health as a crucial part of our teen’s health. We teach them about eating healthy and staying fit. However, we ignore mental health. Schools need to be portraying mental health as equally important as physical health. Teens should learn about mental health from a young age, and wellbeing should also be a priority in every aspect of the education system. As a youth, we spend most of our days in school, which is why schools need to invest in creating a curriculum that is critical in helping prevent mental health problems from increasing, building well-being and versatility, and helping young people learn the skills they need to cope in today’s world. This is exactly why my company, FloraMind, exists.

Here is a video I encourage you to watch by Prince Ea:

It’s about educating the youth, teaching them that while something may seem like not a big deal, it could be a tipping point for them. I was really amazed when I found out “New York is the first state to require mental health education in schools”I think every other state should start making mental health education a compulsory part of education across all schools.

Khandker Ahamed