Back in May 2019, I’m sure many of you remember seeing some variation of an Instagram post that read: “May is mental health awareness month and that is something we definitely DO care about. You never know who could really use a friend right now. Let’s take a moment to check in with those around us and show them we do care.”
The intent of this message is admirable, but in reality, it’s nothing more than glorified chain mail. Users are able to just click the “send to my story” button without any real thought as to what mental health means in everyday life.
Those same people who share that post to their story can actually be contributing negatively to the mental health of others in the community, whether purposefully or unknowingly. They end up making hypocrites out of themselves, as their words don’t match their actions. In the same breath, they took to post about how bullying ends lives, they’re making fun of the girl who dares to try a new style, not realizing comments like theirs are part of the problem.
Their ability to do this stems from the impersonal nature of those posts. The right thing seems so easy and clear to do from far away. But in reality, life is messy. Sometimes the good choice isn’t as clear. These are the people that unknowingly contribute to the negativity in an environment.
I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous it is for issues such as mental health to become similar to a fad. The adverse effects of this are amplified tenfold in an action as permanent and irreversible as suicide. The second it enters that trap, it begins a perilous cycle rampant with pain. The effects of the cycle are only felt by some. It’s easy for us, the unaffected ones, to forget its existence for periods of time (until the next tragedy happens, of course). But it’s impossible if you’re his mother, her sister, their friends. For them, the absence is inescapable, a constant hole in their lives. They see her in her baby blanket, they see him in his first baseball glove. And they see everybody posting their condolences, saying never again, but nobody following through.
Suicide is the second highest leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-24, with 14.46% of that age group committing suicide in 2017, according to a study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. There were 5,029 suicides within that same age group in 2014. 5,029 young lives that can never be recovered.
Honestly, I find the issue similar to the school shootings and walkouts of 2018. Everyone plays activist for a week, and then sweeps the issue under the rug. Soon the posts will fade, the national suicide prevention hotline will be removed from their bio, and people will forget that a kind word goes a long way.
Education is the way to ensure that mental health doesn’t become a fad. Not just in schools, but also in the general public. It should be designed to reach as many people as possible, whether through music, the radio, curriculum, or posters. A greater emphasis needs to be placed on mental health, especially the preventative measures. The curriculum should not teach us how to give afterthoughts and condolences, but rather how to ensure that those words of sympathy will not be needed. The cycle feeds off of those condolences that are cast aside after a few weeks.
Another way to break the cycle is just a simple act of kindness everyday. Brightening someone’s day is a feat to be proud of, even if it’s just with a quick compliment or a smile in the hallway. Remember: “Helping one person might not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person.”
Schools need to standardize curriculum that addresses issues such as these, instead of focusing on more trivial issues.
What is taught in schools needs to reflect current issues, and many topics brought up in standard health classes are just simply outdated at this point.
There is a growing mental health epidemic in America, and multiple reputable news sources such as NBC News and Time magazine have published articles to this effect. The common idea among these publications is that suicide rates have been rising due to the prominence of social media in young lives.
Personally, I believe that the problem is greater than just social media, but I do see the potential role it could play for some. Recently, Instagram has been instating new features to combat the harassment that has been occurring on its platform. Their latest update included a feature that allowed users to block others in the direct messages section of the app, in an attempt to be sure that they would be safe from unwanted messages that made them feel uncomfortable or even unsafe.
Suicide, and all of mental health, is not a trend or a fad. It is real and it is ongoing and we need to be taught to look for the warning signs. Those of us who are able to forget about the existence of the cycle should not take this privilege for granted and use our platform, whatever it may be, to speak out about these issues. Schools should implement comprehensive education about mental health because it could help to save a life.
Imagine if we placed half the emphasis that we place on grades on mental health. Just half. Imagine that…