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NY Educates Students on Mental Health

Starting July 1, New York will be the first state to require that mental health is taught in the curriculum of health classes in all elementary, middle and high schools. The updated curriculum will cover many areas of mental health in an effort to increase the likelihood that students will be able to recognize, identify, and cope with mental health concerns and issues.

“I think instating more mental health programs will be very beneficial to the families of those who need the programs. Since they can be given through schools, they can get the best opportunities,” said Mt. Hebron sophomore Caroline Pearce about the measures being implemented in New York.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five children ages 13-18 suffer from severe mental disorders at least once in their lives. The New York legislature acknowledged this and made a bill to create awareness of mental health in schools. As stated in Mental Health Education in New York Schools: A Review of the Legislative History, Intent and Vision for Implementation, “The paper is intended to provide the education and mental health communities with not only a historical context for the law, but also a framework and guiding principles for the implementation of the law.”

The Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) has worked with the legislatures in New York state to design this bill in order to promote awareness and recognition for mental illnesses as they have become a major issue among the nation’s youth.

Mt. Hebron junior Xavier Eatmon said, “It is important for us [the schools] to recognize symptoms and work to find solutions for students with mental disabilities.”

The New York legislature has taken five years to finalize the bill and to debate what the bill should include. As stated in the bill, “The legislation had been riding an expanding wave of grassroots support for several years in response to a growing recognition that people in general, and young people more specifically, are not ‘mental health literate.’” The legislation was signed into law on September 30, 2016, by New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, as Chapter 390 of the Laws of 20161.

Most states in the U.S. teach health education in schools, as required by the State School Health Policy Database, but it is not required for mental health education to be included in school curricula. National trends of mental illnesses among youth have been steadily increasing, and by passing this law, New York lawmakers and education boards hope to decrease these trends in New York and to encourage other states to join the fight against mental illness.

“I think it would definitely be a benefit for students and educators to learn/teach about mental health,” Mt. Hebron senior Linnea Collins said. “Unfortunately, a lot of high school kids face mental illness or watch friends struggle with mental illness. It is critical that there is education promoted by schools that incorporates credible information and helpful resources. The more aware kids are about the sources available, the more likely they are to seek out necessary help.”

Mental health research has been conducted in New York for many years starting back in the early 1900s. Besides this bill, the biggest development made to improve mental health was in 1909 when The National Committee for Mental Hygiene was founded in New York by a number of psychiatrists, including Clifford W. Beers.

Beers had himself institutionalized to see first-hand how people were affected by mental health and to observe any help that was being given to the patients. He documented his developments in his autobiography, A Mind That Found Itself, in 1913. Beers was unhappy with what he saw and he advocated for the start of this committee.

Since then, New York has been one of the top states to research and raise awareness for mental health. This bill has just been another step that New York State is taking to try to achieve better lives for the citizens by helping them with their mental concerns.

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