New York First State To Require Mental Health Education in Schools

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In July 2018, New York will become the first state in the U.S. to require all schools to incorporate mental health education into their curriculum.

The Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) — the group that spearheaded the legislation — said that a move like this was long overdue, considering otherpublic health issues, like alcohol and drug abuse, are regularly addressed in schools.

According to a report put out by MHANYS, the first signs and symptoms of mental health problems start, on average, at about 14 years of age. Early intervention can be crucial, but often adults — and students themselves can miss early warning signs.

Many adults miss or dismiss these early signs and symptoms and young people are even less likely to recognize or understand what is actually happening to them.

Even when there is some form of recognition that a young person is struggling, stigma often causes people to ignore, dismiss or rationalize a child’s true need for help. The result is often as tragic as it is unnecessary.

Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who live with a mental illness are 4 times less likely than their peers to be involved in “gainful activities,” such as employment, college or trade school,after completing their primary education. One in 12 high school students have attempted suicide.

In her piece “How My Life Would Have Been Different If I Had Mental Health Education in High School,”  Rachel Fiore said that learning about mental health issues might have empowered her to get help sooner.

She wrote:

High school health class teaches students about safe sex, the dangers of drunk driving and drugs. But why is mental health never a focus in high school health classes? If health classes taught about mental health, I would have realized it was not OK to swallow back the puke every day. I would have realized it was not “normal” to have my hair falling out at such a young age or to believe that one day my friends would decide to hate me. I would have realized it was not OK that the thought of college would make me physically ill. 

I lacked in self-confidence in high school and I believe if I had this education then, my confidence would have been greater. I would have realized what I was experiencing and feeling was something I should be concerned with, and not every teenager felt this way every day. I would have been able to get some help.

While the legislation requires mental health to be taught in all New York public schools, grades K-12, the provisions don’t clearly specify what should be in the curriculum. The authors of the MHANYS report wrote it will be up to the New York State Education Department to implement the law and decide how exactly mental health will be taught.

MHANYS Director of Public Policy John Richter told The Mighty the group will remain involved in the implementation of the legislation. They’re already working with the New York State Education Department and a mental health Advisory Council to develop regulations and guidelines.

Richter says the council includes more than 40 educators and mental health experts.

“The intent of this law is to take a public health approach to teaching about mental health,” Richter said. “In other words, giving students the knowledge and resources they need to help recognize the early signs of mental health problems and how to get help.

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