Friday, November 17, 2023

Misleading children about mental illness

(Originally published Sept 2010)

The NIH curriculum supplement for middle school (grades 6-8), The science of mental illness, aims to introduce students to what it calls the key concept that mental illnesses have a biological basis and are therefore not that different from other illnesses or diseases. It is important to get children to understand that the brain is the origin of thoughts, emotions and behaviour, and they do need to learn to challenge their negative prejudices and not be frightened of mental illness, but the way to do it is not to make the misleading and oversimplistic statement that mental diseases, such as depression, are diseases of the brain.

The curriculum is also keen to convey to students how science can help us make informed decisions. What it does in fact is demonstrate how knowledge is shaped and formed by our modern biomedical beliefs. The propagandist nature of the educational material needs to be made transparent.

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