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New York State to Require Mental Health Education in Grades K Through 12

Last Updated on December 16, 2019 by Inspire Malibu

It’s difficult to overstate how important mental health is, especially for children who are often unable to articulate symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.

In a lot of cases, their actions, which may be the result of an underlying disorder, are mistaken for rebellion, laziness or contempt for authority.

Mental Health Education in Schools

Misdiagnosing the symptoms as behavioral choices or, simply ignoring these issues altogether can leave a child with lifelong struggles that could’ve been confronted and treated at the first sign of a mental health issue.

“It is critical that we begin to teach young people about mental health early in their lives,” Jeanne Bettie, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Education told the Daily Messenger.

New York State Mental Health Education Law

New York lawmakers announced a new statewide law going into effect on July 1, 2018 that will mandate mental health education in grades K through 12, making it the first state in the country to require this type of curriculum.

Among the many reasons other states might follow in New York’s footsteps is the fact that half of all adult mental illness begins before the age of 14, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Research shows that more than 40 percent of kids experience some sort of behavioral health issue by the seventh grade and suicide among 15 to 24 year olds is the third leading cause of death.

While these are sobering statistics, they’re likely even higher due to the lack of reporting from schools, parents and healthcare professionals nationwide.

What is the Objective of Teaching Mental Education in Schools?

The goal of New York’s new curriculum is to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions and help students and teachers to recognize possible metal health issues.

The District Administration reports that the core elements of these courses are being finalized, but will include some of the following:

  • Educate children, teachers and other faculty on mental health issues
  • Increase awareness, understanding, empathy and treatment
  • Provide resources for children who need treatment as early as possible
  • Decrease teen suicides
  • Reduce incidences of bullying and discrimination
  • Improve education outcomes and graduation rates

Though there are bound to be critics that feel educating kids about mental health is unnecessary, it’s vital to understand the impact of ignoring these conditions.

Mental Illness Combined With Drug and Alcohol Addiction

A huge percentage of people that suffer from mental illnesses turn to alcohol and drugs as an unconscious means of self-medication. A 2014 SAMHSA survey on drug use and health found the following:

  • An estimated 20.2 million adults – 8.4 percent of the population – had a substance use disorder in the last year
  • Among that group, 7.9 million of them also coped with some type of mental illness

A combination of illnesses like this is often referred to as a dual diagnosis. Both conditions are treatable, but it takes qualified physicians and counselors to diagnose and address both underlying issues.

Alcohol and drugs will inevitably make conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder worse and increase the severity of symptoms. Heavy alcohol or drug abuse is known to cause issues of depression and anxiety.

In other words, it doesn’t matter which came first, mental health or substance abuse. Each disease exacerbates the other.

The move to educate children of all ages about mental health issues is a critical first step in creating awareness and lessening the stigma associated with the problem. It will also give children some tools to cope with or understand what might be happening at home with a parent, sibling or other family member.

Children are often smarter than people give them credit for, and with the right education, might just be able to help themselves or someone they love.


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