Mental Health and Education
The lifetime prevalence of mental health disorders is 46.4 percent. This means that almost half of us, at some point in our lives, will feel the overwhelming burden of living with a mental illness. Whether you are privileged enough to get it diagnosed or not, the debilitating effects of mental illness prove to be a burden. But when did this statistic get so daunting? There is no single reason or explanation that can quite explain the rise in the number of people who suffer from a mental disorder. It could be our fast-paced, capitalist lifestyles or it could be the overwhelming pressure to succeed in the rat race, either way, the answer is not simple. However, one debilitating factor that can be clearly pointed out is our education system and its dismissal of student mental health.
What Went Wrong?
Sigmund Freud, despite many of his sexist theories, talked a lot about the significance of dreams. According to him, our subconscious mind which contains our desires and impulses, comes forth through our dreams. This is the theory I think of the most whenever anyone tells me about their sweat-ridden dreams about studying for the wrong subject, not having enough time to write the exam, or even not remembering that they had an exam. It is frightening to think of how common these dreams are and how much stress they can cause, the overwhelming pressure of performing well throughout our formal education as well as the innate need to come out on top in this rat race often acts as gateways to depression and anxiety. What happens to the overly-anxious student when they cannot finish their syllabus on time? What happens to the over-achieving student when their grades start to slip? The student with social anxiety disorder who has to stand up in front of the class and speak for marks? The student with depression who cannot, no matter how hard they try, finish their projects?
These children fall behind in the rat race, and when no resources are offered to them, their mental health disorders act as disabilities that force them into a cycle of underachieving, whatever that means for a capitalist society. Learning, in it’s true form, is supposed to be about enriching our lives, about discovery, developing critical thinking and self-fulfillment. Instead it has now become all about the best college, the best master’s program, the best marks and in the end, the best, most high-paying job. We have stopped learning, we have started competing. Mostly, students have no intrinsic motivation to learn anything since from the most fundamental level of learning, our rewards and motivations have been extrinsic. However, extrinsic rewards fade away, they cause anxiety, perfectionism, and the inability to stop and repair your own self. Our chase for these extrinsic rewards have given us no time to think about what it does to our mental health.
What Can We Do?
Our education system is ill-equipped to handle the rising number of mental health cases. There are not enough resources available for people with mental health disorders. Instead of sufficient support, any person with a mental health disorder who does not fit into the society’s idea of a productive individual is shunned and labelled as a bad student.
For example, most of the kids with ADHD cannot sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, even if their life depended on it. However, instead of providing support and resources, the child is labelled as troublesome. Another child with undiagnosed dyslexia may not be able to read sentences, or may have a problem with numbers. That child needs support, and instead is thought of as not smart enough which means resources that the child may benefit from are not given to them. Whether someone has always had a mental health disorder, or they develop it due to the stressful environment of the institution, past trauma or family life, resources such as a psychologist, less emphasis on capitalist ideas of succeeding, more active learning and resources tailored to the needs of differently-abled students would help. A place of learning should be equipped to accommodate a person’s mental health needs.
It is okay to not be okay, however, what is not okay is the presumption that every person has a stable mental health. Not only is such an assumption ableist, it also excludes people who need special resources. It is imperative for us to address these failings of our formal education, and how it hurts the students who are products of it, we must ensure a more fulfilling experience of learning for the generations that come after us. Our education system is based on archaic rules and foundations that are no longer relevant to the youth or their issues; a revolution in education is long overdue.