New York is Right: Every Child Deserves Mental Health Education

As kids go back to New York state schools this fall there will be a new topic on their timetables: mental health.

A†provision enacted in July†requires schools at the junior, middle and high school levels to deliver age-appropriate education around mental health.

What this means in practice isn’t that schoolchildren†will be getting a psychology lesson. Rather, they will be learning about mental health as part of a practice of wider self-care. Schools already emphasize physical wellness and dietary education.

This mental health training is also not about being able to name all the various conditions that a person might develop — though a greater awareness of mental health conditions is something that the education will highlight.

What New York’s Mental Health Education Program Does

New York students will learn how to identify the early signs of mental health problems, discover how to put self care plans†in place and increase student preparedness for dealing with mental illness. They will also learn what mental health treatment looks like and what forms it might take. The goals are†to†destigmatize mental health conditions†and make the process of seeking treatment more routine and less scary.

Through these lessons, teachers will help and encouraged students to talk about feelings, to identify typical emotional responses†versus those that are not so typical and might be a sign of mental health problems, and what it means to seek treatment for mental illness.

“Health education that respects the importance of mental health and challenges of mental illness will help young people and their families feel more comfortable seeking help, improve academic performance and save lives,”†The legislation that provides for this change notes. “As New York works to restructure and integrate systems of health and mental health care, so too should our schools prepare our citizens of tomorrow to think differently about the role of mental health in their lives.”

These changes come as part of the†NYS Mental Health Education Advisory Council’s core recommendations. The group of experts and policymakers formed in August of 2017.

New York is not alone in enshrining this kind of education. Virginia†has enacted a similar, albeit slightly more limited version of this change (but with stricter enforcement measures) that will allow for mental health education among†ninth and 10th graders. The focus there will be on expanding physical education to include mental health and wellbeing and create a comprehensive program on that basis.

Mental health professionals and children’s charities have praised this kind of legislation, saying it is absolutely critical to ensuring children†get the mental health support they need†before†they reach a crisis point either during their school years or beyond.

“The goal is to change the way educators, students and, ultimately everyone talks about mental health,”†Director of Public Policy for the Mental Health Association of New York State John Richter said. “We want people to get the message that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

What†does mental health education mean for†students and teachers?

It’s estimated that over 20 percent of adolescents aged 13-18 will suffer a serious mental illness, while†other data points to mental illness manifesting†in the mid-teens and certainly by age 24. Meanwhile, suicide is one of the leading preventable causes of death, particularly among young men but with a growing proportion of young women too.

This data alone makes the need to intervene obvious, but from a personal standpoint, as someone who suffered from mental illness from an early age, I can absolutely see the worth in this kind of intervention.

I was first struck by serious depression aged 13, a few years after my mom died. However, I didn’t have any idea of what clinical depression was or how to identify it. If I had known the signs of depression I would have been able to proactively seek help, or at the very least communicate that there was something wrong that needed addressing.

Without that knowledge, I suffered not just throughout my teens, but into my mid-20s precisely because I had never received education on the different kinds of mental ill-health and how, even when we’re depressed, some people appear to function well, all the while spiraling. Because I wasn’t able to seek help, I became a virtual recluse, dropped out of college and spent several years dealing with crippling anxiety.

No child should have to deal with that, especially when mental illness is highly preventable for many people.

Obviously, there is a need to ensure that we create age-appropriate lessons on mental health, so young people of all ages receive information they can actually digest and use. These efforts in New York State and Virginia represent incredible steps toward empowering young people.

It also helps our overworked teachers, because no longer will they be the ones under sole pressure of identifying at risk-children in the classroom. Now, children may be able to spot the signs to help one another, and that could make all the difference.

Take Action!

Children deserve to know that there is help out there if they or someone they know needs treatment or guidance for their mental health. Congress must†pass legislation that models New York State’s approach and make mental health part of health and wellness learning in schools. Sign the petition now and make this change a reality!

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. Youíll find Care2ís vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

38 comments

Joemar K
Joemar Karvelis18 hours ago

Thanks

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Pam Bruce
Pam Bruce1 days ago

The mental health of everyone is so important. Young people today are having a tough time because of so many outside pressures being tossed at their families. I hope this type program gets into schools all across the Nation.

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Izorie Irvin
Izorie Irvin3 days ago

Thanks 4 sharing, there are several levels of mental growth, therefore I feel learning ones mindset should start at an early age so when one finds their self leaning towards negative energy they may have notion to bear too the right form of thought.

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Dot A
Dot A3 days ago

Good step in the right direction, New York! Mental health is more than just a class in how thinking effects our lives. If we could test our national population and get a serious honest evaluation of our 'national mental health' I am concerned for what would show up as unhealthy and destructive. It seems that much of our culture has been effectively drawn into the 'get rich, famous, be popular and then you will be loved' pit of no return. Mental health is not just about 'loving yourself' either. Our ability to reason, to solve life's constant dilemmas, to grow with changes, and to form relationships based on authentic caring for others is in the circle of how we develop resilience and strength to carry on with the daily doses of surprises, disappointments, and the rewards that are not measured in capitalistic terms. Eventually, our minds wrap around the bigger picture, and we are a thread of personal delight in the tapestry which reveals a great deal of beauty.

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michela c
michela c3 days ago

Thanks

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Brandy S
Brandy S3 days ago

Thank you.

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Amanda M
Amanda M3 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda M3 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Kathy G
Kathy G3 days ago

Thank you

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Kathy G
Kathy G3 days ago

Thank you

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