As Mexican-Americans, we are brought up thinking that mental health is not important. In our culture, psychologists and psychiatrists are the people you go to if you’re “crazy.”
I was unaware of what a psychologist was until I was 15, not because I read about these individuals, but because my ninth-grade English teacher informed us that our school provided one to help us with any situation we were going through, after it was announced earlier that day that our classmate had committed suicide due to cyberbullying.
As I reflect on that day, I begin to question the American education system. Why aren’t we implementing mental health awareness at our schools? Why are we making our school counselors work on students’ schedules instead of providing counseling and guidance? Why do we continue to “punish” those kids that misbehave by sending them to the detention room instead of talking to them about their actions and how they can improve their behavior? Why do we continue to ignore these issues?
Oftentimes, children or adolescents with a mental health disorder are punished for their uncontrollable behaviors and are stigmatized as the “bad kids.” A great example of this issue is the movie “Front of the Class.” The protagonist is a child who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations known as tics. In the movie, ignorant educators tell him to “stop that nonsense” and he is sent to the principal’s office for his “bad behavior.” The child later explains that he dislikes making noises, but that he cannot control them and that they occur less frequently when people don’t point out that he is being annoying or tell him to stop, because the more he tries to suppress the tics, the more frequent they become.
His only wish: to be treated as any other kid.
Unfortunately, many teachers begin teaching without a foundation on mental health. Some kids are not diagnosed until they are adolescents, or even adults, due to parents’ lack of knowledge on this topic. So, many educators punish these kids and label them as “troublemakers” and try to punish them by misusing timeout and in severe cases, placing them in special-ed classes.
What can you do? Get informed. Speak up! Don’t neglect your mental health! If you, a friend or family member are going through a difficult situation, don’t be afraid to go see a local counselor or therapist or refer them to one. It is crucial that everyone is aware of the mental health services provided by our community.
Ultimately, as a mental health advocate, it is my duty to speak up about these issues and emphasize the importance of mental health; even though the Rio Grande Valley does not provide enough mental health awareness, we can help increase mental health awareness one voice at a time.