Pittsburgh psychiatrist Marnin E.Fischbach says that teaching children the “3 R’s” — Reading, (W)Riting, (A)Rithmetic — is not enough for them to understand and control their own mental and emotional health:
Eighteen percent of Americans will suffer a “major depressive disorder” during their lifetimes, 13 percent will suffer social phobia, 4.4 percent will develop bipolar disorder. Given just these numbers, which represent a small fraction of all psychiatric conditions, it seems reasonable that our education system should include some formal training in the recognition of these disorders, their underlying symptoms and the possibilities of treatment.
Dr. Fischbach thinks the teaching can begin in kindergarten:
A behavioral-health track in schools could begin in kindergarten by teaching children how to describe their various emotions (even many adults, surprisingly, cannot do this or do so with little facility). Kindergarteners might also learn to identify the other two pillars of the psychological triad: thoughts and behaviors.
Children could then advance to role-playing appropriate, adaptive ways to interact with one another and adults, with emphasis on how to express their emotions, especially negative emotions, in ways that will be understood and respected by others instead of causing unintended reactions.
Learning would continue right through to graduation:
Later grades could emphasize more complex interpersonal interactions, including the role-playing of real-life, school-based scenarios. Adolescents, who are for the first time developing the capacity for abstract thought, could be introduced to internal psychological phenomena such as defense mechanisms, mental conflict, impulsiveness, the “self,” transference phenomena, dreams and their functions and meanings, catharsis, grief and conflict resolution.
The final years of high school could include an introduction into the major psychiatric disorders and the biology of the mind.
Who knows? A program like this could lead to more children and adolescents developing an interest in the professions of psychiatry, psychology, and counseling. Better patient access to more mental health care providers would have to wait a generation, but it sure would be worth it. For all of us!
Read more of Dr. Fischbach’s article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here.