With Governor Cuomo’s recent signing of the Mental Health Education in
Schools bill, there has been a lot of news article and media engagement
that have been generated both Statewide and nationally. A few of the
articles are listed below.

This new law will help in the continuing efforts of MHANYS and our
affiliates in providing mental health education, enhancing mental health
literacy and eliminating the stigma of mental illness.

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Focusing on mental illness, wellness

Batavia Daily News
PUBLISHED: MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2016 AT 12:30 AM

As their children grow, most parents do an excellent job of teaching them
how to recognize and deal with physical problems. Got a cut? Treat it with
antibiotic and cover it with a bandage. Got a cold? Drink lots of fluids,
rest and cover your mouth when you cough. It’s fairly easy to teach someone
how to stay physically healthy.

But when it comes to mental health, it can be a whole different story.
There is a history of stigma. In some families, mental illness remains a
taboo topic. Until a few years ago, many health insurance companies
wouldn’t even cover treatment for mental illness. And few school health
classes even mentioned mental health issues.

That is changing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation earlier this month
that makes mental health education mandatory alongside the material on
critical health issues such as tobacco, alcohol and substance abuse. The
legislation is something the Mental Health Association in New York State
Inc. has advocated for over the past five years. “By ensuring that young
people are educated about mental health,” said MHA-NYS CEO Glenn Liebman,
“we increase the likelihood that they will be able to recognize signs in
themselves and others that indicate when help is needed and how to get
help.”

Many school districts have already recognized the importance of teaching
youngsters about mental as well as physical health. Perry Central, for
instance, has offered mental health instruction as part of its health
curriculum since 2004. In Orleans County, not only is mental health part of
school curriculums, but schools have mental health personnel available in
satellite offices. A similar clinic is planned for Robert Morris School in
Batavia once final approval is given by the state.

“We had a strategic plan to go where the kids were,” said Orleans County
Mental Health Director Mark O’Brien. “It makes the services more accessible
and reduces the stigma. We partner with the school psychologists,
administrators and teachers … the reaction has been nothing short of
phenomenal.” The services include help with mental health disorders and
also other issues such as eating disorders and depression from bullying.

Education is important for several reasons, noted Nancy Balbick, Wyoming
County director of Mental Health Services. It not only can help the
students who know they’re depressed, for example, but can also help the
students who don’t understand why they are feeling the way they do – who
may be experiencing symptoms but can’t recognize them for what they are and
so can’t deal with them.

This kind of education takes mental illness out of the realm of mysterious
unknown and into the mainstream where young people can learn how to take
care of themselves mentally as well as physically. The state hasn’t yet
released a new curriculum containing a mental health component, but the
ideal curriculum would focus as much on mental wellness as it does on
mental illness, in much the same way that current health education
emphasizes wellness.

“I hope they teach not only ‘This is what your mental health is’ but also
‘This is what mental wellness is,’” said Ms. Balbick. That is a worthy
goal. If this legislation brings about such a curriculum, it will have
brought light to a dark place where too many young people have been lost.

Local educators: Mental-health class is a good idea

Superintendents in the four-county area say they support a bill passed
Monday requiring mental health to be taught in middle and high school
health classes.

Some area schools are ahead of the curve and already provide instruction
and support in this area, but the mandate will create accountability,
advocates said.

The legislation was signed Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to an
announcement from the Mental Health Association in New York State Inc. The
goal is to educate young people and increase “the likelihood that they will
be able to recognize signs in themselves and others that indicate when help
is needed and how to get help,” Glenn Liebman, MHANYS’ chief executive
officer said.

Some schools already teach about mental health and suicide prevention, but
these efforts have not been consistent across the state, according to the
announcement, and many schools are “unsure about their role and the
appropriateness of teaching this subject matter.”

State education law requires schools to provide instruction on topics such
as the use and misuse of alcohol, tobacco and drugs and the early detection
of cancer. The new legislation, which will go into effect in July 2018,
means mental health instruction will be added to that list of required
topics.

Carl Mummenthey, superintendent of the Cobleskill-Richmondville Central
School District, said the mandate “makes sense.” An increasing number of
students struggle with anxiety and depression, he said.

“It can be a real barrier for students, sometimes affecting on-time
graduation,” Mummenthey said Tuesday. “So I’m glad this was passed.
Anything we can do to help highlight the signs and symptoms and direct
students to the right services will ultimately help them be successful in
the long run.”

Mummenthey and Jason Thomson, superintendent of Delaware Academy Central
School District at Delhi, said mental health has been taught in their
schools for years. They agreed that accurate and proper education could
help open up conversation and eliminate the stigma sometimes associated
with mental illness.

Delhi’s middle and high school health teacher, Allison Yando, is “very
thorough,” Thomson said, and “has an outstanding rapport with students.”

“You have to nurture the spirit, mind and body,” Thomson said Tuesday, “and
mental health is a very serious issue. We take it very seriously here. …
We have a school psychologist, several counselors and a social worker, as
well as a psychology elective that students can take for college credit.”

Oneonta City School District Superintendent Joseph Yelich said he, too, has
multiple school psychologists, counselors and social workers on staff.
Social and emotional health are areas of “real need,” he said, so this is a
positive development. But the state needs to make sure there’s proper
support for any necessary training and/or recruitment of mental health
professionals.

“Not all schools have what we have,” Yelich noted. “A small school with a
tight budget may not have the same resources.”

Unadilla Valley Central School also has a psychologist, school counselors
and a student advocate, according to superintendent Robert Mackey. There is
also an introductory mental health unit in the health curriculum, he said.

Requiring mental health education is a great step, he said. But the fact
that it’s “very, very challenging” to access crisis mental health services
in the area is discouraging.

“There’s a lot to this,” Mackey said. “It’s wonderful to provide education,
but if our kids graduate and then don’t have access to services afterward,
that’s a bigger problem yet. What we really need are services like the
(A.O. Memorial) Fox Crisis Center back.”

Walton Central School Superintendent Roger Clough said a forum held at the
school in March was so well-received by the community that the school is
planning to host another similar event this fall to “continue the important
conversation.”

About 20 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness at
some point in their lives, according to the Mental Health Association in
New York State Inc., and about half of them will begin experiencing
symptoms as early as 14 years of age. Too often, however, these signs are
missed and young people go without treatment for years, often suffering
academically, abusing alcohol and drugs, getting into legal trouble,
Liebman said.

Advocates and many experts believe that teaching the facts about mental
health and openly discussing the issues with students will help young
people and their families feel more comfortable seeking help.

Ginnah Howard, a member of Otsego County’s chapter of the National Alliance
on Mental Illness, said NAMI had “a wonderful program” about 10 years ago
wherein the organization would frequently send pamphlets to local schools
to help them navigate the topic in an accurate and sensitive way. Over
time, the program faded out, she said.

“This new legislation is very important,” Howard said. “Surely it has been
brought on by a lot of the recent happenings in the news in terms of people
with mental illnesses. This should have been mandated long ago.
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