For the first time in our country’s history, in any state, mental health classes will be mandatory for school-aged children in the state of New York, starting with kids as young as three. This trailblazing new law comes after a bill was passed in July making mental health part of the standard health curriculum for all students.
According to the New York State Mental Health Advisory Council, the curriculum will begin in the fall and take place in traditional health and physical education (P.E.) classes across the board, from preschool to high school. According to the Council, nine key points must be taught as part of this education, including identifying signs of mental health problems, resources for help and support, and attacking the negative stigma surrounding mental illness.
The new mandate is intended to help students learn more about mental and emotional wellness, as well as helping them understand when and how to seek help for themselves and others. With around 13% of children ages 8-15 and 21% of teenagers ages 13-18 experiencing a severe mental health disorder, and only a little over half of those children receiving mental health services, this is incredibly necessary.
Estimates say that 17.1 million children will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder by the age of 18. With those kinds of statistics, it’s my personal hope that this mandate catches on nation-wide. Another state on the east coast, Virginia, actually passed a similar law earlier this year, pertaining only to 9th and 10th graders. While it’s not quite as ubiquitous as New York’s law, it’s something, considering that many mental health issues start presenting themselves around the age of 14.
I’m imagining friends and peers that I had when I was in middle and high school. People who were already dealing with addiction, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, or loved someone going through similar issues. When you’re young and not taught the proper protocol, it can feel isolating and scary. If teachers were giving this information out in the classroom and having thoughtful conversations surrounding mental health, it would empower students to seek help and guidance, improving the lives of so many; maybe even saving them.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.