Come September, school children across New York State could be walking into classes that discuss mental health for the first time.
The New York State Mental Health Association said some schools already teach mental health, but a law mandating a mental health curriculum is long overdue.
“There is a crying need that we felt has been out there for many years,” NYS Mental Health Assoc. CEO Glenn Liebman said.
A need to address mental health issues in schools, because according to the New York State Mental Health Association, currently, kids might not be getting the help they need.
“For 50 percent of the population, the onset of a mental health issue – anxiety, depression – is age 14,” Liebman said. “When they start to seek services could be up to age 24, so we are looking to help eliminate that gap.”
Rebecca Carman is the Director of Policy and Community Development at the Shenendehowa School District. She said school is the perfect place for a child to find help if they’re struggling.
“A lot of their day is spent at school,” she said. “So it’s a natural place for it to be at school, and there’s natural ways for it to be embedded in the curriculum at school.”
And that’s why teachers from kindergarten through high school will now be expected to talk about mental health with their students.
“We’re not looking to be psychiatrists,” Liebman said. “We don’t want teachers to be clinicians or anything like that. We’re looking for them to have a basic understanding about mental health issues, about signs and symptoms.”
Carman said the way educators broach the subject will be different in every school. However, under the new law, the teaching can be embedded anywhere from a regular class to a talk with a counselor.
“When a counselor comes in to talk about conflict resolution, they could embed it in the mental health curriculum that way,” Carman said. “And through health education classes, whether it’s sixth grade, seventh grade, or the high school level.”
Carman hopes the new law will help start conversations on other issues in schools across the state.
“People are afraid to talk about mental health because of the stigma attached to it, which is really unfortunate,” she said. “And the more we talk about it, the more we change our language and make it more positive.”
For more on the new curriculum, visit the New York State Mental Health Association.