May 19, 2023

Breaking Down the Stigma: Why Mental Health Awareness Matters

Kevin Dorsey, Ed.D.
An illustration of a student waving to a teacher on both of their laptops

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it provides an excellent opportunity to educate individuals and have critical conversations about the importance of mental health, which is defined as a person's overall psychological and emotional well-being. 

Sadly, many prejudices still exist in regard to seeking out, obtaining, and treating mental illness, even though the CDC reports more than half of adults will need mental health treatment in their lifetime. We can undo this stigma by changing the public sentiment around mental health and changing negative and discriminatory thoughts about those suffering from mental illness. It’s imperative we support those trying to overcome internalized shame about what others may think regarding their mental health.

Schools can also work to overcome the institutional stigma that may intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for students who suffer from mental illness. In February 2023, the National Alliance on Mental Health reported suicide as the second leading cause of death for ages 15-24, with nearly 20% of high school students seriously considered suicide. 

In addition to this sobering statistic, The Trevor Project’s 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People found that of the 28,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13 to 24 across the United States polled, 41% seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year — and young people who are transgender, nonbinary, and/or people of color reported higher rates than their peers.

Providing support and therapeutic services before a crisis occurs is critical for students and can help improve the school community overall. For more on this, be sure to read this recap of our webinar on the topic.

Talking about mental health and building an awareness campaign can be uncomfortable for students. One possible way to help ease this discomfort is to host an “Ask a Mental Health Professional” program. Allow them to submit questions anonymously and have a counselor or teacher make answers readily available. This could be either by answering them in a public document or reading answers during daily announcements. Ensure students know about community mental health resources and ways to access them.

I also encourage schools to take advantage of a free trial of GoGuardian Beacon to help identify and support those who are silently struggling. The tool allows school personnel to detect students in five categories of self-harm (active planning, ideation, self-harm, help and support, and research) and threats and violence (guns and bombs, violent acts, bullying, and historical acts). Beacon was built in partnership with the American Association of Suicidology and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to help schools provide more support to students when they need it.

Together, we can end the stigma regarding mental health and support, so all learners can come to school and feel their best.