Valencia D. Clay was 28-years-old when she finally got care for her major depressive disorder. Before then, she didn’t have the vocabulary to understand, or even begin to process, what she was experiencing. She thought, “This is just how I am.” Now, Clay is using what she’s learned about mental health to help her middle school students take better care of their own. (“This Teacher Is Using Her Struggle With Depression To Change The Way Schools Deal With Mental Health”, Essence, June 12, 2017).
According to Clay, people of color often face greater stigma about mental health. In the predominately black and Hispanic school where she teaches, that stigma can keep her students and their families from seeking help. Clay herself only got help after a co-worker recognized the signs of mental illness and urged her to do so.
Now, Clay makes sure she cultivates a clear message for her students that their lives matter. Every day, her students engage in activities revolving around self-care, like meditation, journaling, circle-talks and readings that prompt them to see their inner beauty, both physically and mentally.
Most importantly, Clay is intentional about teaching her students how to recognize their feelings and be aware of them at all times.
All educators, no matter what grade, institution or walk of life, should incorporate mental health and wellness into their curriculum. With Youth Mental Health First Aid, teachers learn what warning signs to listen for, what language to use and how to ask their students the right questions about mental health. The training gives teachers the skills they need to start critical–even potentially life-saving–conversations about mental health and substance use in their classrooms.
“The more we use education to deconstruct the towering walls around mental health, the more we will be able to free and serve our most vulnerable population, the children,” Clay said.