New York Schools Now Teach About Mental Health As Part Of Health Education, & It's A Big Step Toward Busting Stigma

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A new law that took effect in New York state on July 1, 2018 means that schools will now teach about mental health as part of health education classes, according to NBC. Not only does the new curriculum promote greater understanding of various mental health conditions, but classes also include exercises in describing feelings, and developing increased emotional intelligence over time. NBC further reports that New York is the first U.S. state to require that mental health education be part of health class curriculum, and that the new guidelines could go a long way towards helping eradicate stigmas associated with mental illness.

The new mental health education classes aren’t just your typical intro to psychology courses; students will be learning valuable life skills that they can apply in practical ways. According to state guidelines, learning to practice self-care is an important part of the new curriculum, as is addressing stigmas as barriers to treatment. Students will also learn how to access resources if they or someone close to them is experiencing a mental health crisis.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that "Schools provide a unique opportunity to identify and treat mental health conditions by serving students where they already are." NAMI also states that many mental health conditions start in adolescence. Half of all those living with mental illness start experiencing symptoms by age 14, while 75 percent of mental illnesses begin by age 24. One in five young people live with a mental health condition in the U.S. alone, but less than half receive treatment. NAMI further suggests that school-based mental health services are crucial to providing support and resources for young people, who might otherwise feel isolated if they or a loved one are facing a mental health crisis.

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But the new legislation aims to help bridge this gap. According to Governing, the new education law comes not a moment too soon: teen suicide rates have doubled in girls, and risen by 30 percent in boys in recent years. Governing further states that Virginia also has plans to integrate mental health education into the public school curriculum, and will introduce mental health classes at the ninth and tenth grade levels soon — when half of mental health issues start to show up among young people.

According to NBC, stigmas associated with mental illness are still common. Many people who need mental health treatment avoid it because of fears of what others in their communities might think. Meredith Coles, PhD., told NBC that the purpose of the new curriculum standard is “to give students the knowledge they need to recognize in themselves and others when they need help."

The new mental health curriculum aims to empower students to understand the crucial links between mental and physical health.

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told NBC that the state passed this legislation in order to give students the tools they need to navigate any mental health problems they might encounter, and learn to recognize when a friend or loved one might be struggling.

“When young people learn about mental health, and that it is an important aspect of overall health and well-being, the likelihood increases that 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,” Elia told NBC.

In short, the new mental health curriculum aims to empower students to understand the crucial links between mental and physical health, and how to get help when help is needed.