Listed below is an excellent piece about the new mental health education
law written by Andrew Malekoff, the Executive Director of the North Shore
Child and Family Guidance Center on Long Island

Mental Health Education A Must For Schools

By Andrew Malekoff

October 5, 2017

New legislation signed by Governor Cuomo in 2016 requires that public
schools in New York State begin providing instruction in mental health on
or after July 1, 2018. The legislation was co-sponsored by Senator Carl
Marcellino (R-Nassau) and Assemblywoman Kathy Nolan (D-Queens).

he new legislation adds mental health education to areas of learning that
were already required by law, including education on the use and misuse of
alcohol, tobacco and other substances and early detection of cancer.

According to Glen Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York
State, “By ensuring that young people are educated about mental health, 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.”

Why is this legislation so important? One in five adolescents ages 13-18 is
diagnosed with a mental health problem, yet only 40 percent get help. The
average time from onset to seeking help is eight to 10 years. According to
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 12 high school students
attempt suicide, the third leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds.

Teaching about mental health in schools and educating to reduce stigma is
long overdue. There is great misunderstanding and fear among many who have
erroneous ideas about people with mental illness. Consequently, young
people suffering with mental illness walk around school believing that
there’s something inherently wrong with them that will never change.

These children and teens often feel shunned, unlike their peers who have a
physical health problem and who have others rally around them. I can
vividly recall a news report and photo of a middle school boy afflicted
with cancer who was receiving chemotherapy. In the photo he was surrounded
by his teacher and a smiling group of classmates, all of whom shaved their
heads in solidarity with him. Imagine if instead of cancer he was depressed
and suicidal. There would be no such image of public support, only one of
isolation, shame and despair.

A caring school community can offer a young person a safety net of
meaningful and helpful connections. It is not unusual for a teenager to
feel defective when struggling alone with a mental illness. Mental health
education in schools can begin with mental wellness practices for children
as early as four or five years old, for example, by teaching social skills
and how to manage angry feelings.

As children grow they can learn about the concept of wellness including
self-care and personal responsibility. They can learn to recognize the
signs and symptoms of developing mental health problems, how to manage
crises such as the risk of suicide and self-harm and how to identify
appropriate services and supports for treating and maintaining recovery
from mental illness.

I can already hear those voices that will decry using educational resources
for addressing the emotional needs of kids. If that is your view, I ask you
to consider that approximately 50 percent of students age 14 and older who
are living with a mental illness drop out of high school. Youngsters’
mental health and their ability to learn and become productive citizens in
the community and workplace go hand-in-hand.

We owe it to our children to support this vital new legislation by
encouraging schools to incorporate meaningful education into the curriculum
that reinforces the idea that mental health is an integral part of
well-being. Our children need to learn that there is help that can lead to
recovery.

Andrew Malekoff is the executive director and CEO of North Shore Child &
Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services
for children from birth through 24 and their families. Visit
www.northshorechildguidance.org to find out more.

Glenn Liebman, CEO
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.
gliebman@mhanys.org

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