Mental Health Education Now Required In New York Schools

By Victoria Kim 10/02/18
New York is the first state to require mental health education in all grades.
kids raising their hands in a classroom

This fall, New York schools became the first in the U.S. to teach mandatory mental health education to students of all ages.

“All schools” across New York state are now required to teach mental health literacy in health class in elementary school, middle school, and high school.

New York enacted the requirement in July—same as Virginia, which now requires mental health education to be taught in the 9th and 10th grade.

There’s a growing movement to lessen the stigma of mental illness as suicide rates in the U.S. rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national suicide rate increased by 30% since 1999. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds, and is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. overall, the agency has reported.

According to the New York law, “90% of youth who die by suicide suffer from depression or other diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death.”

It is “critical” to teach young people about mental health, said New York’s Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “When young people learn about mental health and that it is an important aspect of overall health and well-being, the likelihood increases they will be able to effectively recognize signs and symptoms in themselves and others and will know where to turn for help—and it will decrease the stigma that attaches to help-seeking,” said Elia.

The purpose of teaching kids about mental health in schools is to “advance mental health literacy among young people statewide as schools prepare students with lifelong skills in mental health and wellness and increase their awareness of when and how to address treatment or support for themselves of others,” according to the New York State Center for School Health.

CNN reported in July that the curriculum should cover “the multiple dimensions of health and include the relationship of physical and mental health.”

In August 2017, the NYS Mental Health Education Advisory Council was established to provide guidance to educators. The new curriculum must teach nine key points, according to the Daily Mail. These include identifying the signs of mental health issues, finding resources for help and support, and addressing the negative stigma that surrounds mental illness.

“We need to change attitudes around mental health. Starting to educate children in schools makes sense,” said Meredith Coles, PhD, professor of psychology at Binghamton University.

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