Mental health education becomes a district goal

A District Built on Mental Health: The Lee County District has come out with a new plan of action for tackling mental health.

Melanie Pena

A District Built on Mental Health: The Lee County District has come out with a new plan of action for tackling mental health.

A weary student arrives home from a stressful and exhausting day at school. They greet their parents, say school was ‘fine’ regardless of how it actually went, and confine themselves to their bedroom for the rest of the evening. Negative thoughts fester in their head, fear and anger build, inner demons shred away at their self-esteem. They don’t know what’s wrong with them, and they can’t tell anyone; nobody will understand their struggle. This is the unfortunate reality for one in every five teens across America who suffer from mental illnesses. It’s a reality that Governor Ron Desantis aims to eliminate in the near future with his new Mental Health Allocation Plan, which mandates five hours to be set aside annually for students to develop a stronger understanding of mental health.

“I think the classes can help me and others,” said Oxana Madruga, a sophomore at Cape High. “A proper education can be powerful, and with a subject like this, it can save lives.”

The goal is for students to be able to recognize the symptoms of mental health disorders as well as the proper outlets to seek help for themselves and their peers.

While it is currently unclear on how this program will be implemented into the curriculum, the preparation is already underway. Each school in Lee County recently sent a select few teachers to a training course, where they learned about the topics to be discussed. They will, in turn, share their insight with the other faculty members. Biology teacher Robert Berkey was one
of the teachers selected. “I learned that there’s a variety of issues that plague teenagers today, whether it be social anxiety, issues at home, or just situations where they don’t get along with friends at school,” he said.

“It is important for students to know about these issues because mental health plays a huge role in adolescents’ growth,” Madruga said. “There are topics such as self harm or suicide that can be uncomfortable to talk about, but we need students to understand what they might be going through and to know that they’re not alone.”

Most teens have a very rudimentary understanding of mental health. Potentially the most harmful thing one can do in regard to mental illnesses is inaction, as the situation will only worsen if nothing is done to combat them.

“As a teacher, it’s kind of hard to tackle all of those together, but I learned that ingenuity is a platform by which students can self-reflect a little bit, and seek out the help and attention that will ultimately be best for them,” Berkey said.

Governor DeSantis sees this as the ultimate goal for his program. “Prevention is critical in dealing with these issues,” he said in an official statement.

Mental health has been overlooked for far too long. Berkey, among others, truly hopes this new policy can change lives for the better. “The mental health training will be worth it, even if we help just one kid,” he said.

The long-overdue mental health training is set to be fully operational for the 2020-2021 school year.