Editor’s note: Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith is a sixth to eighth grade health teacher and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month.
It’s been popping up constantly in the news. Universities all over the U.S. are scrambling to meet the mental health needs of a stressed out, anxious, and unhappy generation of teens. This current mental health epidemic is only going to get worse.
Luckily, there is a solution to the problem, though it might take a few years to see the impact of this preventative—rather than reactionary—approach. By requiring students to have comprehensive, skills-based health education on their transcripts, colleges have an opportunity to save time, money, and most importantly, lives.
There’s a problem with the current state of health education. The graduation requirements for health vary drastically from state to state, and most states that require it only offer a semester or two in grades nine or 10. The current educational focus on academic achievement, athletics, and extra-curricular activities has supplied universities with students who are well rounded—but completely out of balance.
It doesn’t help that due to budget cuts in education, health is often the first thing to go. Schools also limit or remove health class due to state laws regarding sex education. It’s possible that admin and policy makers hold painful and awkward memories from their own experiences in health class growing up. Perhaps they recall outdated textbooks and videos and uncomfortable lectures most likely delivered by the school’s football coach.
But health education is currently experiencing a sea change, and couldn’t be further away from that old-school model so many of us endured as teens. Positive and passionate health educators lead this new movement, and we’re focused on equipping kids with the health literacy skills they’ll need for life.
If university admissions start requiring incoming freshman to have comprehensive health education on their transcripts, they might find the demand for additional mental health services decline. Instead of a stressed out freshman class, they’ll have students equipped with the healthy coping skills needed to transition into college life and beyond—regardless of what major and career path they choose. As adults, there’s only a certain number of us who need to remember what we learned in high school calculus, but every single one of us needs to make countless decisions that impact our health every day.
It’s time for the educational system to get its priorities straight. Health literacy should be a must for all students so that they have the tools needed to manage stress and anxiety levels on their own—and the skills to seek out help and services when they can’t.