New York Starts Mandatory Mental Health Program For All Students -- Including Kindergarten

by Thea Glassman
Originally Published: 
Image via dolgachov/Getty

All New York students will be learning about mental health starting this fall

Here’s one glimmer of goodness amid all the terrible news lately: New York has made it mandatory for all schools to teach mental health as part of their overall health education program. Starting this fall, students in K-12 will learn about wellness, identifying mental health problems, the best resources for help, and so many other important tools.

New York is the first state in the entire country to make mental health education mandatory in every single grade. In August 2017, the New York State Mental Health Education Advisory Council was established to help shape the curriculum for this new program. They’ve already released a suggested outline, which includes breaking down stigmas and practicing self-care.

There’s also a digital resource center packed with lessons plans, discussion boards, and additional resources.

This new program couldn’t be more necessary in schools. Approximately 1 in 5 people aged 13-18 experience a severe mental health disorder, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness. 50% of mental illnesses begin by age 14. Getting a head start on mental health awareness could make a significant difference in these young people’s lives.

“When young people learn about mental health and that it is an important aspect of overall health and well-being, the likelihood increases they will be able to effectively recognize signs and symptoms in themselves and others and will know where to turn for help — and it will decrease the stigma that attaches to help-seeking,” New York’s State Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, told NBC News. “It is critical that we teach young people about mental health.”

The curriculum for younger students will start out with simple, thoughtful discussions. “A mental health education in kindergarten might look like a teacher sitting with a circle of five and six-year-olds talking about feelings and emotions and what it feels like when you’re upset,” Kristen Purcell, Assistant Coordinator Innovative Teaching & Learning at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Counties BOCES, explained to ABC.

She noted that this early education will benefit the students down the line when they’re grappling with “even bigger feelings and even bigger emotions.”

Older students will be taught more in-depth topics, like spotting the signs of depression. They’ll also learn about developing positive relationships which is a super, super important lesson to learn during those formative years.

“Give kids that toolbox of how to regulate their own emotions, how to build resiliency, and how to practice self-care so they know what to do when there’s a problem that’s a little too big for them to handle,” Purcell noted.

So much applause for the New York State Education Department. Hopefully other states will follow their lead. Let’s do much less of mandatory dodgeball games and much, much more of this.

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