These states’ education departments are focusing on mental health

One in five adults in the U.S. are believed to be afflicted with mental illness, while almost half of those cases began during a person’s teenage years, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people 10 to 24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The New York education department strives to combat that issue by teaching its students the importance of understanding mental health.

Due to a 2016 law, New York public schools began teaching courses on understanding mental health and mental illnesses on July 1, 2018. This will allow students to look for signs of mental illness in themselves and others and know the right avenues to take to seek help.

“The public is finally coming around to the notion that to properly address mental health issues, we must first acknowledge and openly discuss them,” said MaryEllen Elia, the state’s education commissioner, in a statement provided by the Mental Health Association.

Since New York is the first state in the U.S. to pass such a law, there is little guidance on the curriculum that should be taught. The Mental Health Association will assist the state in creating appropriate lessons.

“This groundbreaking law lays the path to better health for all New Yorkers,” said Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York to the Democrat and Chronicle. “While first starting in schools, we believe that ultimately this law will have a far-reaching effect for communities across New York state.”

Virginia is following suit after Sen. Creigh Deeds sponsored the state’s mental health bill after listening to a presentation from high schoolers in Albermarle County in 2017. The students presented a proposal for addressing mental health in schools and increasing counseling staff. The legislation passed in April 2018.

“I was impressed by their thoughtfulness because a lot of these young people had seen bullying,” Deeds said. “They had seen depression. They had seen classmates that had died by suicide. It’s part of tearing down the stigma and providing some equality with those that struggle with mental health.”

New York and Virginia are paving the way for mental health education in the U.S., which is something our country desperately needs. Without open discussion of mental health, those struggling are oftentimes left feeling alone and helpless. While discussion of mental health takes place in the aftermath of mass shootings and other crimes, there is hardly ever talk about mental health in mass media. The two states are taking a step in the right direction and hopefully other states will follow.

“When young people learn about mental health, and that it is an important aspect of overall health and well-being, the likelihood increases that they will be able to effectively recognize signs and symptoms in themselves and others and will not know where to turn for help—and it will decrease the stigma that attaches to help-seeking,” Elia tells NBC News BETTER.