Reducing the stigma around mental health in schools benefits not only the students in your classrooms but also the wider school community. Here are key ways to help fight the stigma in your school.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of a distinguishing characteristic or personality trait that’s thought to be a disadvantage. Unfortunately, this often includes those dealing with mental health challenges.
Stigma relating to mental health means that people with a mental health condition may be viewed negatively or discriminated against. This can also lead people with mental health conditions to feel shame and guilt about their situation. Unfortunately, young people with mental health challenges are more likely to face higher levels of stigma than adults. These early experiences around mental health can impact help-seeking throughout their life.
Why do We Need to Reduce it?
Unfortunately, it’s still a common belief that mental illnesses are just a sign of weakness. And a far too common response to young people experiencing mental health concerns, like depression, is that they are “attention-seeking” and “should toughen up and get over it.”
As we mentioned above, the stigma of mental health is a barrier that may prevent young people from getting help. The longer someone goes without treatment, the more difficult it becomes to live with their mental health challenge, and the more difficult it can become to treat.
Schools are essential partners in reducing the stigma around mental health. As a place where youth spend a lot of time, it’s the perfect place to educate, challenge common misconceptions, and provide a safe place to seek help. Here are a few tips your school can utilize to help fight the stigma.
Key Tips to Help You Take Action
Know the Facts
Knowledge trumps discrimination. So, before you take any further steps, you need to know the facts.
Many mental health conditions are still poorly understood by society. So the better informed you are, the better equipped you’ll be to identify and respond to stigma. Do your research and make sure you are getting your facts from trustworthy resources. Inaccurate information and media stories that perpetuate these ideas can reinforce stigma and cause more harm.
To help fight misconceptions about mental health, it’s important to talk openly and often about it. With careful planning, talking about mental health can be a normal part of the school experience. Here are some practical ideas to use:
- If you teach science or health, do a unit on mental health and explain some of the more common mental health conditions and the facts about them.
- Encourage students to challenge negative attitudes, stereotypes, and myths around mental health. Have them seek out examples from popular movies, literature, televisions, and websites.
- Share stories of community members or famous individuals with experience of mental health challenges. Research suggests this helps students be more empathetic and accepting. You can utilize videos, podcasts, or blogs for this.
Sometimes, students may not reach out to their parents for help because they don’t understand the reality of mental health challenges. Educating and providing aid for students is vital, but educating the entire family is also important.
If possible, hosting a “mental health education night” at your school once a year can prompt the community to come together to learn and share. Parents and students can discuss current trends in youth mental health, and parents can learn more about mental health conditions and how stigma is harmful.
Make it Easy to Reach Out for Help
The biggest key to helping reduce the stigma around mental health is to make it easy for students to reach out for help. Encourage students to talk to an adult if they need support or if they know someone in distress. If a student comes to you for support, respond with compassion and remind them help is available. And seeking out the right resources for your school can provide much-needed relief for not only your students, but the entire school community.
If your school needs more mental health support, Equity Associates is here to provide the resources you need. We will work with your existing school-based mental health practitioner to expand mental health services within your school and connect you with resources needed to augment gaps. We offer two levels of services for schools: mental health diagnostic assessment and planning and network membership. We’re based in Ridgway, Colorado but can help those anywhere in the state. No matter what, we’re always here to support those who need us.