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Schools Are Required to Teach Mental-Health Lessons This Fall in Two States. And That's a First.

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By Guest Blogger Sasha Jones

Students returning to Virginia and New York's classrooms this fall will be required to participate in mental-health education as part of their health and physical education courses.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill into law in March that requires a mental health curriculum for 9th and 10th graders. In consultation with mental health experts, the Virginia Board of Education will review and update its Health Standards of Learning to reflect the new legislation.

A similar bill was signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in September 2016, and became effective on July 1 of this year. The first-of-its-kind law requires schools to address mental health in health education programs for students in grades K-12, but, unlike Virginia, does not tie that to a specific set of mental health standards.

"Unrecognized, untreated, and late-treated mental illness elevates the risk of mental health crises such as suicide and self-injury. Early treatment enhances potential for recovery and also diminishes negative coping behaviors such as substance abuse," Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State, said in a press release. "Empowering young people with knowledge will have a powerful impact in helping them protect and preserve mental health and wellness for themselves and their peers."

Since New York's law does not outline a specific curriculum, MHANYS plans to launch a resource and training center to help schools prepare for the upcoming school year. Still, it will be up to the New York State Education Department to decide how to implement the law.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18 percent—nearly 1 in 5—U.S. adults live with a mental illness. This increases to 49 percent in adolescents, with 22 percent experiencing severe impairment as a result of mental illness.

Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates from 1999 to 2016 have increased in all states, but Nevada. Twenty-five states saw an increase of over 30 percent.

Other states have responded to the increase in mental illness rates with increased funding for school counseling and training teachers to recognize the symptoms of mental illness in order to better refer students to mental health resources.

Photo by Getty

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