I am of the opinion that Mental health should not be taught in schools. This is not an ‘anti-psychiatry statement or an attempt to persuade you not to seek psychiatric help. It’s simply a reflection that responsibility for mental health is best placed with the recipient. This responsibility does not extend to relieving patients of their freedom, which will ultimately be theirs only if they are mentally competent.
It seems evident that people without good mental health can’t do as good a job at their jobs as people with healthy minds. But it’s far from obvious why. If doctors had known that depression causes so many physical problems, they would have paid more attention to it before it became fashionable to ignore it. The correlation between mental and physical health is too vague to be predictable. That means it’s not something schools can teach. In medicine, you can’t tell a patient’s symptoms from her diagnosis. The only reliable way of predicting whether a patient will respond well to treatment is to ask her. However, many doctors are so focused on getting the diagnosis right that they don’t ask about the problem. Schools don’t have the luxury of asking. If they did, they might find that people’s mental problems stem not just from a lack of medication but a mismatch between their jobs and their abilities. If schools could work out what people need, then they could teach them that. But they can’t because diagnosing mental problems is difficult.
Most teachers aren’t trained to do therapy. The great majority of teachers are not trained to do therapy. A therapist must be trained in various ways, including introductory psychology, effective communication, listening to and understanding others, and an ability to empathize. Most teachers, however, usually need help to do some of these things.
Teachers are first and foremost observers. They observe students’ behavior and reactions, and then they interpret those reactions. Teachers are not trained to make inferences about people’s inner lives. Thus, when a student seems to have a problem, the teacher often assumes that the student knows and feels what the teacher thinks the student knows and feels. Because of that, teachers often don’t recognize when a student is hurt or upset. Even experienced teachers sometimes seem surprised when a student comes up to them and says, “I feel foolish, and I don’t know why.”
Once a student finally tells a teacher what the teacher thought the student was feeling, the teacher usually feels relieved. With luck, the teacher will then say, “Oh, that’s okay. Let’s go sit somewhere and talk.” But the teacher doesn’t usually say, “Don’t be silly. Don’t you know why you feel stupid? Because you don’t understand.”
Mental health shouldn’t be taught in schools, but it’s commendable that schools explore ways to help students’ mental health.
However, it’s not their place to teach mental health any more than to teach chemistry or music. The most valuable education we can offer our children is to teach them how to reason, how to think critically, how to understand people and situations, how to communicate effectively, how to explore ideas, and how to express themselves.
Mental health are personal matter and should be treated as such. Suppose students are genuinely interested in learning how to improve their emotional well-being and mental strength. In that case, it’s a good thing to explore. But schools shouldn’t be teaching it. Instead, schools should focus on teaching skills that can be readily applied to life, whether you’re on a sales call or dealing with a demanding customer.
That said, schools could offer mental health courses for interested students or offer extracurricular programs that focus on developing emotional well-being. These aren’t just feel-good classes, either. Properly developed, they can help children develop resilience, empathy, and problem-solving skills, which are valuable in business.
But students should be the ones to choose whether they want to participate, and teachers should respect their choices. And, of course, if a student is struggling with mental health issues, involving them in such programs could be counterproductive. However, suppose any school truly wants to help students develop their skills to lead happy, productive lives. In that case, it should be offering mental health classes.