- With major depressive episodes and attempted suicide on the rise for students, the New York state legislature is now mandating mental health education for all grade levels beginning in the 2018-19 academic year, District Administration reports.
- The need for mental health education is borne out by statistics: the average onset of mental health issues is about the age of 14; 8% of students nationwide have attempted suicide in the past six months (according to the Mental Health Association of New York State), and 60% of high school students with a mental illness fail to graduate.
- The new curriculum, which is still being developed, will include elements such as personal responsibility for mental health, recognizing signs and symptoms, cultural perceptions of mental illness, identifying appropriate supports and managing mental health crisis situations.
While the decision by state policymakers to mandate mental health education at all grade levels is new, the importance of addressing mental health issues among school-age children has been acknowledged for some time. In 2003, the “President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health,” produced by the U.S. Department of Education, stated: “While schools are primarily concerned with education, mental health is essential to learning as well as to social and emotional development. Because of this important interplay between emotional health and school success, schools must be partners in the mental health care of our children”.
While a growing number of students are battling with mental health issues, such as major depression resulting in self-harm and/or suicide attempts, many students also deal with mental illness in their families. According to Social Work Today, more than five million children in the U.S. have a parent with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. In addition, many are dealing with parents in the throes of addiction. Students need help in dealing with these issues and understanding that they are not the cause and are not responsible for the cure. Being provided with information at school that helps them cope with mental illness at home can be valuable in protecting the mental health of the children themselves.
Even though most states don’t have a mandated mental health curriculum, mental health education is a natural extension of social-emotional learning. For instance, bullying is the trigger for many episodes of depression and suicide attempts, so strong anti-bullying programs can easily incorporate lessons in depression and suicide prevention. Effective social-emotional learning programs not only help students deal with the issues they face in a more positive way, but they also help improve academic outcomes in the long run.