In July, the state of New York passed a law that will see mandatory mental health classes in all schools for kindergartners right through to grade 12 learners.
According to NBC, the law change added a paragraph to the state's education law "mandating mental health as part of health education in schools." New York is the first state to implement mental health classes for scholars, and mental health experts are elated about the change.
Even today there exists a major stigma around mental health issues, to the point where many people still don't feel that they can come forward and speak about it. Meredith Coles, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Binghamton University of the State University of New York, has expressed just what these mandatory classes will do to change that.
"It's time to recognize that mental illnesses are real and treatable. We need to change attitudes around mental health. Starting to educate children in schools makes sense."The National Institutes of Mental Health estimates that approximately 19 percent of adults in the U.S. have suffered from an anxiety disorder in the last year. The institute further believes that around 31 percent still will. Other estimates indicate that around 7 percent have had "at least one major depressive episode." There is data that suggests "50 percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent begins by age 24," proving just how important it is for education surrounding mental health to start at a young age.
"Decreasing stigma, changing attitudes and giving students practical knowledge they can use when it comes to mental health problems they or others face is why New York passed this legislation," New York's State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia explains. "When young people learn about mental health and that it is an important aspect of overall health and well-being, the likelihood increases 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. It is critical that we teach young people about mental health."
While schools will have the freedom to create their own curricula for the classes, an advisory council has been created to help guide them through the most important factors of the classes.
Some of the guidelines from the advisory council include:
- Mental health as part of overall health and wellness
- Identifying mental health problems early on
- Removing the stigma surrounding mental health and the discrimination against people who suffer with mental health problems
- Places to find appropriate help and support