New York and Virginia became the first states on Sunday to require mental health education in their school districts.
New York’s legislation, CNN reported, mandates the implementation of health curriculum in elementary, middle, and high school. The Virginia law implements mental health education for ninth and 10th grades.
“This bill calls on school districts to ensure that their health education programs recognize the multiple dimensions of health by including mental health and the relation between mental and physical health in health education,” reads the purpose of the New York law.
The text goes on to say that while the State Education Department realizes the complexities of a child’s well-being, mental health has escaped inclusion in the New York statute. Legislators, who wrote the law in 2015, built on New York’s 40-year-old postulate to teach health matters, including alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse, to school children.
In Virginia, the mental health law materialized under the leadership of state Senator Creigh Deeds after he attended a high schoolers’ presentation on mental health. He worked with the students to craft a bill and push it through the legislature this spring.
“I was impressed by their thoughtfulness, because a lot of these young people had seen bullying,” Deeds, whose son killed himself in 2013, told CNN. “They had seen depression. They had seen classmates that had died by suicide. It’s part of tearing down the stigma and providing some equality with those that struggle with mental health.”
The two laws come into effect in a time when suicide rates have spiked up, according to a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans aged 10 and older died by suicide, which is the nation’s 10th leading cause of death as well as one of three leading causes on the rise.
In the years since 1999, CDC reported a swell in suicide rates for almost all states. The statistics ranged from 6 percent increase in Delaware to the whopping 57 percent surge in North Dakota.
For adolescents, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
“For every young person who dies by suicide, many more have suicidal thoughts, attempt suicide, or deliberately injure themselves without intending suicide,” the Institute wrote last month.
The institute also notes that research has failed to identify successful approaches to engage suicidal teens and keep them in prevention programs. Neither the New York nor the Virginia laws outline any specific mental health curriculum.