Dear Mrs./Mr. President,
Here is the reality of the situation: mental illness is eroding our country. One out of every five Americans will experience a mental illness during their lifetime (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and ninety percent of the annual 42,000 American suicide victims had a diagnosable mental health problem before or at the time of their death (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Most people do not understand what a mental illness entails, and it is this misunderstanding and stigma that creates shame in the affected community. Fear of judgement prevents the affected from seeking treatment. In fact, depression is the leading disability worldwide, but only seventy percent of cases are treated.
Hello, my name is Heather and I am a student at Damonte Ranch High School in Nevada. I am extremely active in my school’s theatre department and I enjoy taking many Honors and Advanced Placement classes. I am an extraordinarily happy, positive, and extroverted—albeit busy—young woman…which is why it is so surprising for people to learn that I experienced a mental illness. To think that I almost never became a high schooler. To think that I almost took my own life as a twelve year old girl because of a depressive episode.
However, the only thing that surprises me is that no one ever prepared me for the realistic possibility of living through a mental health condition, which is why I am enlisting your help. The United States of America needs to create a comprehensive, mandatory education program to be taught to students in various grade levels throughout their education process. Already, we have established programs such as S.H.A.R.E. (Sexual Health and Relationships Education) and D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to teach children about possible future health concerns. Is it so farfetched, then, to create a national education program focused on this invisible health concern?
See, education is the only way to crack the shell of uncertainty in the world around us. Where there is ignorance, there is fear. When we shuck away the layers of confusion, we begin to create clarity. Culturing an open, accurate conversation about this topic is the key to ending its effects; this freedom to talk about our health validates feelings and concerns. Humans are afraid of what we do not understand, so let me help you understand my experience.
First of all, any mental illness is the combination of a genetic predisposition, mixed with various chemical imbalances in the brain, met with a triggering event that begins the process. No one can just “turn off” a condition like cancer, and the same is true of a mental illness.
My genetic predisposition was courtesy of my great grandmother and my trigger was changing schools. This environmental change shocked my system, resulting in weight gain, mild insomnia, loss of interest in my favorite hobbies, severe hopelessness (especially regarding slipping grades at school), a quick end to my ability and desire to connect with my peers, a deep self-loathing, and serious consideration of suicide. My story is not unusual, nor rare. It is normal in the grand scheme of mental health treatment. And, quite honestly, that sickens me.
Yet, there is a simple solution. Educate America. Put teachers, counselors, principals, and students on high alert for signs of mental illness. After all, fifty percent of people who experience a mental illness during their lives show signs by the time they reach fourteen years of age. The quicker a mental health condition is noticed and treated, the easier it is to resolve or continue treating. Implementing mental health education in schools in absolutely essential for the survival of our country.
The issue, however, with adding an educational program of this magnitude is money. Opposition to national mental health programs circle around the one fault of adding a new, mandatory course to schools. They focus on the cost. The idea of mental health education seems dandy until a dollar sign pops into the picture. Those who disagree care more about green bills than human beings, more about budgets than helping people live healthy, productive lives.
If you want to talk money, let’s talk about money. Let’s talk about savings.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Certainly a national mental health course couldn’t cost this much, seeing as how only $190 million is spent on sex education each year in our country.
NAMI also shows that one-fifth of local and state prisoners have experienced a history involving mental illness. Instead of rehabilitating ill offenders and getting them back on their feet, prisons release them. Offenders are forced to commit another crime to feed themselves or provide for themselves, especially involving medication. Once these ill prisoners are caught, they are usually sent back to prison. More money is spent on containing them, and the vicious cycle continues.
Additionally, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that suicide (largely due to mental illness) costs the U.S. $4 billion annually. Add these costs together, and you can see that an egregious amount of money would be saved by implementing a national mental health education and awareness program.
But, we can save more than money with this revolutionary approach. We can save families, relationships, and lives. America is sick, and education is the only way to slow this epidemic.
"Mental Health Information." , The National Alliance on Mental Illness Defines Mental Illness as a Medical Condition That Disrupts a Person’s Thinking, Feeling, Mood, Ability to Relate to Others, and Daily Functioning. Mental Illnesses Are Medical Conditions That Often Result in a Diminished Capacity for Coping with the Ordinary Demands of Life. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.
"Facts & Statistics." NAMI Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
"Suicide Statistics — AFSP." AFSP. AFSP, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.
"Depression." World Health Organization. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.
Numbers, By The. "It's Never Too Late." NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.