(Part 1 of about a million)
We ignore early symptoms of mental disorders. Since my parents are both educators, I hear a lot about what happens in the education system down here. I also have some of my own experiences and the experiences of close friends that I use for reference.I would automatically distrust any statistics produced by the government of this island regarding mental health, so I'm going to address this issue without hard data because no hard data is trustworthy far less "unbiased".
In school, there are many cases of high achieving students "going mad" either before exams or during the middle of the semester. These students sometimes let out blood-curdling screams heard through out the school. Sometimes they "speak in tongues" or engage in behaviors otherwise deemed "off". There are many other instances of acting out that get students labeled as crazy.
The response of the adults responsible for the well being of these children is dismissive and judgmental. These students are seen as attention seekers and the general attitude towards students undergoing difficulty due to stress is disgust. Counselors down here contribute to this disrespect of mental wellness by breaching confidentiality at every turn. Students are truly left with no one to turn to in earnest.What's going on here? There are a few main issues at play.
The belief that mental illness is not as real as physical illness.
The belief that black students/black people must be strong & emotionless and therefore "handle anything".
Teachers who are not educated about emotional intelligence and who are not invested in the emotional well being of their students (only the results achieved.)
Bigotry surrounding issues of sexuality and gender that may be causing students difficulty.
I find all of these points disturbing. Mental wellness is not a separate issue from physical wellness. After all, our brains are not separate from the body. The racial factor to this is also important and yes, in a post-colonial society that gained independence during my mother's lifetime, race is ALWAYS important. As a society of black people, we have learned many ways to self-regulate and perpetuate colonialism. This inattention to our mental health is one of these ways. Slave masters believed that "the negro" was unfeeling and did not experience pain (see Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington for more details.
Since our society is rife with bigots who feel free to loudly proclaim their bigoted beliefs about sexuality, including alleged leaders in education, it is easy to see why students who are experiencing gender dysphoria or questioning their sexuality who be distressed. When you are surrounded by bigots and concerned about survival, it's easy to see how mental wellness could falter.
In our commitment to having nothing change and remaining perpetually stagnant, we have not factored in mental well-being into our education system. This does NOT mean students should not be challenged! What it does mean is alongside hard work, students need to be taught strategies and techniques for well being like we teach nutrition and exercise for physical health. We Also need to expunge bigots from our education system. But since bigotry is accepted as "opinion", I suspect that is far off for now.
Denying reality doesn't help anyone especially not our youth. In light of mental health awareness week I challenge adults, especially those in education, to think about how they can be more understanding of students and their various needs. Look into eliminating your own prejudice. I urge others to educate themselves about the realities of mental illnesses and disorders. Information is at your fingertips; make use of it.