NY advocates pushing for school mental health center –
Funds needed as schools roll out mental health curriculum this fall, advocates say

By Bethany Bump

ALBANY — Mental health advocates are urging the governor and lawmakers to
include funding in the 2018-19 state budget that would assist New York’s
schools as they begin the sensitive work of teaching about mental health
and wellness this fall.

In a few months, New York will become the first state to require mental
health education as part of its statewide school curriculum, thanks to
hard-fought legislation that passed in 2016 and goes into effect this July.
But it’ll take more than just a law to get people properly educated about
the importance of mental health, advocates say.

“This is an enormous sea change that New York is kind of leading the
country in,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in
New York State. “There’s no other state that’s doing this, so it’s
important that we get it right.”

His group is asking lawmakers for $1 million a year for three years to fund
a School Mental Health Resource and Training Center that would provide
instruction to schools as they begin implementing the curriculum. It could
also provide web-based training and resources, professional development
through Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) credits, and
information about school-related mental health practices happening around
the nation.

The 2016 law simply requires schools to teach students about mental health
— in much the same way they teach about physical health, diet and
nutrition. It does not require teachers, or other instructional staff, to
diagnose or intervene in a student mental health issue. That is best left
to certified staff, such as school counselors and psychologists, or
licensed social workers, experts say.

“Teachers already have an incredibly difficult job,” said Liebman. “We
don’t think they should have to be clinicians as well.”

The good thing about teaching mental health, he said, is that both students
and teachers should become well-versed in the various signs and symptoms of
mental health illnesses and issues, as well as where to go to seek help and

Another hope is that the curriculum will help dispel myths and popular
misconceptions about people with mental illness — something the nation is
seeing right now as the conversation around school shootings inevitably
associates individuals with mental illness as more prone to violence than
others. On the contrary, experts say, individuals with mental illness are
far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

Because these myths persist, it’s important that teachers and department
heads receive help when designing and implementing mental health
curriculum, advocates say.

“We want there to be as much support and resources and instruction as
possible, so that instructors get it right and it’s done in an appropriate
and sensitive manner,” said Liebman.

The state Education Department last year established the New York State
Mental Health Education Advisory Council, of which Liebman’s group is a
part, to share expertise and resources with schools as they begin providing
mental health education. But without funding, Liebman said, it will be
difficult to sustain support to school districts.

State lawmakers are working through the week in order to finalize a deal by
Friday. A state budget is due Sunday, April 1.

“This year especially, we’re prioritizing mental health education and
awareness in our schools across our state,” said Republican Sen. Rob Ortt,
who chairs the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Development
Disabilities. “I know how important this is and I’m hopeful that critical
funding for school mental health training and resource centers will be a
key pillar to our approach.”


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