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Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

THE MUSE

Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

THE MUSE

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Don’t Settle: This is Not Enough

The Suite360 curriculum fails to provide proper, nuanced, and thoughtful mental health education
Ariel+Mindel%2C+left%2C+of+Mental+Health+America+of+Illinois%2C+hands+out+information+about+depression+and+suicidal+behavior+after+a+presentation+at+Oak+Lawn+Community+High+School%2C+January+26%2C+2011.+At+rear+is+high+school+social+worker+Carol+Gustafson.+Photo+by+Alex+Garcia%2FChicago+Tribune%2FMCT
Ariel Mindel, left, of Mental Health America of Illinois, hands out information about depression and suicidal behavior after a presentation at Oak Lawn Community High School, January 26, 2011. At rear is high school social worker Carol Gustafson. Photo by Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/MCT

When I watched the Suite360 video lessons, I didn’t think about mental health or destigmatizing it. I didn’t think about the 4.4 million adolescents diagnosed with anxiety or the 1.9 million with depression and the many more that go undiagnosed. 

I only thought of one thing: “Is this it?” 

In response to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the urge for additional resources amid a growing mental health crisis, Florida public schools are now required to provide mental health education to students in grades 6-12 each year. Through Palm Beach County’s 2020-2021 Mental Health Allocation plan, students are subjected to the seemingly thrown together, presentation style video lessons offered through the program Suite360. 

For most of the Suite360 lessons presented at school, teachers played one video lesson a day during a designated class period to fulfill the state’s requirement of five hours of mental health instruction a year. The video content consisted of simple information about various mental health topics, ranging from depression to addiction. The goal of these lessons is to educate others about mental health in order to decrease its stigma and teach prevention and intervention. 

But this goal is not met.

Instead, these videos are a barely tolerable 20 minutes fueled by the monotone voice of a presenter reading displayed information. The lessons also include some videos with dubious expertise or accuracy, and once it ends, the conversation never continues. Textbooks and laptops are flipped back open. The lesson fades into obscurity. 

I have depression. And I wanted to talk about it.

Once Florida schools began to implement mental health education, it felt like a needed step in the right direction. I hoped we would finally have the needed conversations about mental health to start reducing the debilitating and damaging effects of stigma that leads to social isolation, worsening mental health, and shame. But I’ve never seen my hopes drop as fast as when I first saw a Suite360 lesson. 

As the repetitive lessons drone on, I watch students put their heads down to catch a nap, ranting to friends and the teacher about the lesson’s abysmal quality, and openly mocking and ridiculing the lessons as they play out.  

However, I will not target my anger at the school. After speaking to guidance counselor Rachelle Nicholas, I learned that our school, along with the rest of the county, is required by the district to play these videos. 

But that’s it. It’s just a video. I have seen teachers play a video, but never start a discussion, nor ask for questions, even though instigating one would be futile with these kinds of lessons. They are never asked to ask. 

“Right now, the counselors are doing the suicide and self harm lessons for the (Suite)360 curriculum,” Ms. Nicholas said. “And to me, that is important because when you actually have a person who’s equipped to deal with the situation, presenting the information, asking questions, interacting, where you’re creating a discussion that makes people feel comfortable enough to talk about their stories. That’s when people actually take the time to process the information and get something out of it.”

In order to see improvement, Suite360 needs trained mental health counselors to relay and elaborate on the vague, sometimes misleading, curriculum. But can we always apply this in every school setting? 

Suite360 should, on its own, get a conversation going without depending on a guidance counselor to explain. In an attempt to keep information simple for a general audience, the video lessons fail to capture any sort of nuance about issues as complex and as multifaceted as mental health. Definitions are glossed over, oversimplified, and leave out the effects of these disorders and how varied those effects can be.  

This is not what destigmatizing mental health and promoting a supportive environment looks like.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness outlines it best

  1. Talk openly about mental health
  2. Educate yourself and others
  3. Be conscious of language
  4. Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
  5. Show compassion for those with mental illness
  6. Choose empowerment over shame
  7. Be honest about treatment
  8. Let the media know when they’re being stigmatizing 
  9. Don’t harbor self-stigma 

But in order to put these lessons into fruition, we need to take mental health education resources seriously to promote conversations and create a supportive environment. I want to see in-depth definitions of mental illnesses, their causes, and the risks, such as the American Psychiatric Association’s detailed page on depression, combined with anecdotal and authentic explanations. It should be a doorway into understanding what me and many of my peers face, not another lesson we feel burdened to learn like human growth and development. 

The key to this education is getting everyone to understand it, and the best way to connect is through emotion. Yet, Suite360 elicits no emotion except frustration and boredom. We need interactivity in Suite360, not a monotonous, unremarkable video to stare at for half an hour. 

While Suite360 proves to be a good step in the right direction, we can’t settle. There are more steps to take, and the district needs to keep moving forward. To stagnate the education will eventually stagnate the stigma.

I don’t want to think this is it.

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About the Contributor
Alex Pham
Alex Pham, Web Managing Editor
Alex Pham is a third-year staffer on The Muse and the managing website editor. They've spent their time on the publication communicating the importance of online journalism to enhance the online coverage of The Muse and its website with deep care and focus. Their passion lies in mass communication and the need to promote and protect the messages that need to be shared with the world. When they're not absorbed by their numerous publication spreadsheets and workflow notes, they're competing for the Dreyfoos Speech and Debate Team and working as secretary of the Dreyfoos Video Game Association.
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