To stop suicides, we need to talk about mental health

Julianne Alvares, Opinion Editor

My middle school classmate committed suicide over spring break. He is not the first teen suicide I’ve heard and, unfortunately, won’t be the last.

I reconnected with old classmates, each of us mourning the loss of a friend. After looking through all the in-memoriam posts on my phone, I sat down and wondered what could be done to prevent further tragedy. I realized that the one thing that was absent from health class was mental health.

At Branham, according to the Healthy Kids Survey, 35 percent of freshmen, 36 percent of sophomores, 48 percent of juniors, and 41 percent of seniors say they have struggled with chronic hopelessness or sadness. Chances are you know a friend or classmate who is struggling, and you want to help, but you don’t know how.

In physical education, we talked about substance abuse the entire year and had an entire unit of reproductive health, but almost nothing was said about mental illness and suicide. Why did the curriculum not delve as comprehensively into these topics as they did with drugs or sex?

Despite not receiving as much attention in the curriculum, suicide is a much more prolific cause of death. According to statistics compiled by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention in 2015, the amount of drug-related deaths was 3.7 per 100,000 people. Compare this with suicide-related deaths, which was 14.2 for males and 5.1 for females per 100,000 deaths.

The statistics are certainly alarming, but what can we do to help stop or prevent teen suicide? Mandatory mental health education in schools similar to what we have for reproductive health education can help students understand their options.

The plan would look very similar to the California Healthy Youth Act, took effect in early 2016. This act mandated that schools provide students with comprehensive sex education, including information on contraceptives.

The act worked; the amount of births for teenage girls between 14 and 18 dropped from 15,002 in 2014 to 11,694 at the end of 2016. Given this knowledge, it would be logical to conclude that information on suicide hotlines and help centers could save young people’s lives.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a study conducted in Oregon says that schools with health centers may help lower suicide rates in teenagers. In the beginning of the year, New York implemented a policy early this year requiring schools to educate students of mental health and hopefully other states will follow suit.

Education provides insight and information on otherwise taboo topics of discussion, and should be used to tackle the issue of mental illness. Suicide is a prevalent issue, so why do we mention suicide only a few times throughout a whole school year?

Schools exist to educate students on a wide array of subjects, and one of those should definitely be mental health. No one should ever feel so alone and helpless that they feel killing themselves is the best solution and leave behind friends and family wondering why.