Health education has been standard in many public school settings. Many states require lessons about tobacco, drugs, alcohol, safe sex, and even cancer detection in their health education programs. Yet, with the increasing rates of teen suicide and adolescent mental illness, two states are now requiring public schools to include mental health into their curriculums.
New York and Virginia recently mandated mental health education into their schools. In New York, children will receive the instruction from kindergarten through 12th grade. The teachers in the New York public schools will be encouraged to bring the topic of mental illness into all subjects whenever possible starting this fall. Health education teachers will create lesson plans that will focus on describing mental illness while sharing healthy coping techniques and treatments that are available.
In Virginia, youth mental health rankings are among some of the lowest in the United States. The state decided to start its educational program during students’ 9th and 10th grade years. The curriculum will focus on the science behind mental illness, will help students learn how to improve their mental wellness, and will work to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health.
“People are talking more about youth mental health and the effects of trauma on kids, but it’s taken a long time to get traction. I think what we’ve seen recently in terms of school shootings is spurring this,” Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see a number of states go in the same direction over the next few years,” he said, referring to New York and Virginia.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent report on suicide rates shows a 25% rise in the suicide rate from 1999 to 2016. And when you look at teen suicides specifically, the CDC states that, “The suicide rate among boys ages 15 to 19 increased by nearly a third between 2007 and 2015; the suicide rate among girls the same age more than doubled.” States are responding to these statistics by increasing funding for school counselors or psychologists, by adopting mental health first aid programs to train staff, and by requiring suicide prevention training for school personnel. New York and Virginia will probably be the first of many states to formally add mental health education to their school curriculums.
Lori Atkinson, Operations Assistant for The Kim Foundation,
Lori Atkinson joined The Kim Foundation in May 2015 as an Operations Assistant. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from UNL in Middle Level Education. She was an 8th grade English teacher in the Omaha Public Schools for ten years and started a small non-profit in her husband’s memory in 2010. Lori assists with many of the day-to-day tasks for The Kim Foundation which includes scheduling presentations in the community, coordinating booths at conferences, attending mental health trainings, researching mental illness/suicide, and working community events. Lori is the proud mom of three children and is actively involved in her church.