Illustration by Gina Ledor
Mental health. It’s a critical aspect of an adolescent’s education, but public schools have never quite hit the spot with it. Many current Berkeley High School (BHS) students have probably sit through multiple different approaches to teaching mental health education, but why has America not settled on one mental health education curriculum? Is it this country’s bizarre taboo around mental health? Ruby Spies and Abby Steckel, two former BHS students, think they have figured it out. In order to teach about mental health, one has to eliminate all the stigmas and taboos surrounding it.
MEET (Mental and Emotional Educational Team) is a program started last year by Steckel and Spies in which students take courses in mental health and teach their peers, while at the same time getting paid, and receiving credit to spread their knowledge. The idea is that students will identify more with people their age, going through the same things as them, thus soaking in more information and creating new outlooks on the important topics. MEET is relatively new, it was put into place last year with an overall goal to “Destigmatize topics of mental health and mental illness at BHS and beyond and, in doing so, fight against ableism in the school community,” said Spies. MEET’s future looks bright. Students can relate to other students more easily, thus leading to a better understanding and a greater chance they will learn and fully soak in the content. If students are taught by someone they know well, the ability to talk openly is far easier than learning from a total stranger. “Seeing someone your age talk about something you may be going through helps greatly with feelings of isolation,” Said Spies,
MEET is new, it’s innovative, and it could be a foundation for a national mental health education curriculum. It’s definitely a milestone for schooling, whether it be mental health or basic school subjects. “[MEET] also veers away from prominent mental health pedagogy that focuses on pathologization rather than empowerment,” said Speis. “In its essence, MEET operates on the principle that knowledge is power, and that this knowledge must be presented to students in a way that is accessible, concrete, and wellness-centered.” MEET is about giving students tools and power to take action themselves, instead of relying on teachers and counselors, for whom it is harder to relate to as a kid.
Since the project was established, both Spies and Steckel have moved across the country for college, leaving the program under the care of Michael Ceely. His job is to teach junior and senior peer educators about MEET, who then go and teach freshman classes. He said that MEET’s overall goal is to “make [mental illness] less of a ‘problem’ that people have, but just a human condition.”
Ceely also acknowledged that there are possible downsides to MEET. “If not supervised well, there could be a temptation for maybe one of the educators to do some non-professional counseling with the students,” he said. He suggests to prepare the teachers for sensitive, sometimes personal questions prior to the lesson and have juniors and seniors who are apart of MEET report to a mental health professional.
All in all, MEET shows a lot of promise, hopefully as a kickstart to a national mental health curriculum.