“Over a 12-month period, 27 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience some sort of mental health disorder, making the U.S. the country with the highest prevalence (of mental health problems).” ~ The World Health Organization
“What exactly is mental health?”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as:
“…a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
In case a person voluntarily or involuntary seeks out professional mental health treatment, Mental Health America lists the following 13 professions that qualify as ‘mental health professionals’:
– School Psychologist
– Clinical Psychologist
– Mental Health Counselor
– Licensed Professional Counselor
– Clinical Social Worker
– Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor
– Nurse Psychotherapist
– Marital and Family Therapist
– Pastoral Counselor
– Peer Specialist
The following three professionals “can prescribe medication; however, they may not provide their patients with therapy:
– Child/Adolescent Psychiatrist
– Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
(Don’t you find it a bit of problematic when a professional is allowed to prescribe medication but not allowed to administer therapy?)
Should students in schools receive mental health education?
Physical education is compulsory in schools, as we are all aware. As members of a society, we have concluded the crucial importance of teaching children the basics of physical health.
With this in mind, isn’t our mental health just as important, perhaps even more so?
Researchers explain the reasons why children in schools should have mandatory mental health classes
“Absolutely,” says Dr. Stanley Kutcher, a child psychiatrist and Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, “Our expectation of the education system is different than it was 50 years ago.”
And how is our expectation different? Dr. Kutcher expresses his opinion on this issue:
“(School education) is a social contract that’s changed. Schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic and parents would handle the children. Now the (burden) is on schools but the resources and structures of schools haven’t changed and they’re struggling.”
Advocates of mandatory mental health education point out a distressing trend – one that is unique to the U.S. in terms of frequency: mass shootings.
Exhibit ‘A’: School Shootings
We are not going to engage in the gun control debate here. We are going to discuss now how the often unspoken factor of mental illness contributes to the occurrence of one particularly disturbing form of violence: school shootings.
Whenever gun violence is found in elementary schools and university campuses, the general public – including politicians, think tanks, and academics – unavoidably raise the gun control issue.
The mental condition of the shooter(s) is, however, for the most part, an afterthought that many fail to consider prior the unfortunate incident.
As an illustration, we will compare and contrast three decades of gun violence in the United States:
Back in the ‘60s, there were 18 cases of school shootings. The one with most death cases took place on August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student opened fire at the University of Texas at Austin campus. Whitman killed 17 and injured 31 people.
In the 2000’s, 61 cases of school shootings were documented. The worst of these happened on April 16, 2007, when the 23-year old student Seung-Hui Cho murdered 33 and injured 23 people on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
The United States has witnessed 133 school shootings so far in the 2010s. 20-year-old Adam Lanza, murdered 28 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 first grade children and 4 teachers. Lanza also killed the school psychologist.
Now let’s focus our attention on the reported mental health states of Whitman, Seung-Hei, and Lanza.
Whitman visited psychologists at the University of Texas, complaining he had “been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.” He had seen at least five doctors before deciding to carry out his brutal rampage.
Don McElfresh, a writer for the Dallas News, says in a letter:
“To solve problems in our society, we need to seek the causes of the problems. Charles Whitman was an intelligent, motivated, sick individual who needed help.”
23-year old Seung-Hui Cho, a US resident of South Korean origin “had a record of mental health issues since his adolescent years.” In 2005, a Virginia district court described Seung-Hui Cho as “an imminent danger to himself or others,” ordering that he receive a psychiatric treatment on an outpatient basis.
In one instance, the university police placed Cho in a mental health facility to serve a temporary detention. Cho reportedly told his roommate “everyone hates me,” and threatened to commit a suicide.
According to Cho’s records retrieved from the mental health facility, doctors noted: “Essentially, it does not appear that he had any serious intent when he made the suicidal statement.” “He was counseled about the need to act responsibly.”
Finally, there is Adam Lanza. Of all three murderers, Lanza has the largest number of mental health records. These include recommendations from doctors and therapists ignored by Lanza’s own mother, who he also killed.
In an article written for Newsweek, Matthew Lysiak, a journalist and author of the 2013 book Newtown: An American Tragedy, writes:
“I document (in the book), through almost a decade of his mother’s emails, Adam’s downward spiral as he gradually lost his tenuous connection with reality. In 2010, (Lanza’s) illness became so severe he broke off relationship with almost everyone in his life and secluded himself in his bedroom…”
The author’s most painful point is: “No one said anything, and no one tried to stop him.”
Not an easy answer, but…
Whenever a tragic event occurs, politicians are always “first at the scene” with their solutions.
“Stronger background checks!”
“Harsher punishments for criminals!”
“Better mental health care!”
One thing we do know is that the child’s brain is continuously absorbing information and interpreting the world that surrounds them – and for a much longer period than we once thought.
So, is mandatory mental health education the right solution to this problem? Would it have stopped tragic events like the ones involving Whitman, Seung-Hei, or Lanza from happening?
Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, a charity focused on improving the mental health of young people states:
“Schools are critical in helping prevent mental health problems escalating, in building well-being and resilience and helping young people learn the skills they need to cope in today’s world.”
If there is one thing we can single out from the records, it’s that a proactive approach on the part of society, instead of simply empty rhetoric, just may have stopped so much unnecessary suffering.
The idea may be promising and worth the efforts, after all.