Congratulations! Your Advocacy Worked: The Governor Signed the Landmark
Mental Health Education Bill into Law

Congratulations to the thousands of our fellow New Yorkers who took the
time to call and send letters and emails to Governor Cuomo to sign the
Mental Health Education Bill. This would not have happened without your
support. There are no more powerful advocates than those of us in the
mental health community speaking with the same loud and clear voice. We
proved it last year with the tax check off and this year with the Mental
Health Education Bill

This landmark legislation means that when middle schools and high schools
teach about health (which they are mandated to do), they will also have to
teach about mental health. Currently schools must teach about alcohol and
substance abuse and some cancer screenings. Now, mental health has been
added to that small list and that is a great victory for all New Yorkers.
While some schools already teach about mental health, many do not. This
will all change with the signing of this legislation.

This new law will have a major impact in high schools and middle schools.
Over half of all individuals with mental health issues begin experiencing
symptoms at age fourteen. Too often the signs are missed and young people
will go without treatment for years, which impacts them academically,
increases the likelihood of abusing alcohol and drugs, getting into legal
trouble and in some cases tragically losing their lives to suicide
completion. Mental health education in schools will impact youth in a
positive way by providing them with knowledge about mental health so they
can recognize signs in themselves and others when help is needed. Also,
mental health education in schools will provide a greater understanding of
these issues and will help reduce stigma and play a role in educating youth
about suicide prevention.

There are many people to thank for the passage of this landmark legislation
starting with Governor Cuomo who signed the bill into law on October 1st.
We also acknowledge the leadership of the Education Chairs in both houses
who sponsored and advocated strongly for this bill—Assembly Education
Chair, Cathy Nolan and Senator Carl Marcellino. Their staffs were
incredibly helpful as well. Devrah Nussbaum of Assembly member Nolan’s
staff provided us with incredible support and technical assistance.

The idea behind this bill started over twenty years ago when three
educators at Nassau NAMI first put together mental health educational
curriculum for schools in Nassau and across the State. I was honored to be
a small part of their incredible efforts to change the landscape for
schools, not only in New York, but across the country.

Fast forward to five years ago and conversations led by MHANYS Government
Relations Chair Sylvia Lask which led to meetings with other advocacy
groups about this issue. Through Sylvia’s leadership, this bill became a
priority to our membership. To the credit of our board and membership, they
recognized the significance of making mental health education a priority
for the entire state. MHA members have worked tirelessly to make this
legislation happen.

Through the incredible efforts of MHANYS Public Policy Director, John
Richter, visibility of this issue has been raised in every corner of the
legislature. John has spent the last several years becoming a state expert
in this area and it was never more clear than earlier this week when we met
with the Governor’s Office about the bill and he provided clear and concise
answers to their myriad of questions that were posed. He deserves a great
deal of credit for this bill becoming law.

Also, we commend Kevin Cleary, MHANYS Lobbyist, for going above and beyond
in providing us with great advice and entre with State and Legislative
leadership. The accomplishments of the last two years around the mental
health tax check off and the mental health education bill have a lot to do
with the great work of Kevin.

Sylvia, John and Kevin led the way but none of this would have happened
with all your phone calls, legislative meetings and boots on the ground
advocacy. I will say it till I’m blue in the face but whether it was
Reinvestment, Timothy’s Law or more recently the mental health tax check
off and the mental health education bill, none of it happens without your
work. Our colleagues in the mental health community did a wonderful job of
spreading the word resulting in thousands of phone calls being generated to
the Governor’s Office.

It is incredible what can be done when thousands of like-minded advocates
speak with the same loud voice for change. Now because of all of you,
middle school and high school students will be more knowledgeable about
mental health which can help lead to greater awareness of mental health
issues, less stigma about talking about mental health and wellness in a
constructive way, early intervention and suicide prevention.

We will continue our efforts to do everything in our power to change the
landscape for individuals impacted by mental illness and their loved ones.

Glenn Liebman, CEO
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.

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