I have always believed that education is one of the most extraordinary things that anyone can have. This is why I choose to be a facilitator for the Breaking the Silence New Mexico Talking Mental Health curriculum; I genuinely believe in the importance of educating our youth on mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
While the subjects in the curriculum are sensitive ones, it is necessary that they are taught. Why? Because mental health, whether good or poor, is a part of everyone’s life. Something covered in the curriculum is that mental illness, like any other illness, does not discriminate; anyone can struggle with a mental illness. With one in five people in the United States and one in four people in New Mexico living with a mental illness, it is important that we protect our community from the beginning, that we teach them what to do if they are struggling, and help them understand that mental illness is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
For me, the opportunity to teach our youth about mental health and suicide is something that I find purpose in. As a facilitator, not only do I teach on the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, but I break the barriers around the topic for our students. More than anything, I normalize asking for help and give students resources that they can use if they are struggling; whether it is right after their class or three years later. In essence, I see being a facilitator as an opportunity to change what could be a horrible experience to one that has a solution filled with care, support, and understanding. Moreover, facilitating helps prepare students with the right information if their friends, family members, classmates, or anybody they meet are struggling.
I want to end this blog with a story:
One day I was teaching in the online classroom and covering the different mental illnesses. Right after talking about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a middle school student unmuted himself and said, “I have that.” I was shocked; a twelve-year-old student spoke up and admitted that he struggles with mental illness.
Initially, I was worried. I thought that he might be bullied or made fun of for his illness. I forgot that a huge reason for being in that classroom was to stop the bullying. My worry stemmed from the stigma around mental illness.
Before I could recover and thank the student for sharing, another student said, “I have anxiety,” and another wrote in the chatbox, “my mom has bipolar disorder.” I was stunned; students younger than I was when I first heard the words mental illness were willing to tell their entire classroom about the ways that mental illness had touched their lives.
Soon after, we had the entire class chiming up, talking about their experiences, and supporting their friends. At that moment, I knew that what I was doing made a difference; teaching that class gave students the platform to speak up and show that they were not ashamed.
That day, those middle-schoolers showed me that it is possible to change the conversation around stigma.