MH Education in Schools Bill Passes Assembly, On to Senate

NYAPRS Note: The NYS Assembly has passed a bill that calls on school districts to ensure that health education programs include mental health and the relationship between mental and physical health. Strongly supported by the Mental Health Association of NYS, the bill would not take effect until July 2018. It does not mandate any new curriculum. Students are already required to take health classes. The Senate bill number is S06046-A; See below for the bill memo. Stay tuned…

JUSTIFICATION: New York State Education Department regulations recognize that there are several dimensions to health and health education

including mental health. Statute, however, is not clear. This legislation, therefore, updates New York State law to keep public education

apace with our advancements in the understanding and treatment of mental health issues.

It has been forty years since New York's education laws first called for teaching about health matters in our schools. Over the years state law has expanded to recognize that knowledge about specific public health concerns such as alcohol, drug, tobacco abuse and the prevention and detection of certain cancers is critically important for students.

Equally critical, but missing from current law and often the classroom, is the recognition that mental health is as important to health and wellbeing as physical health. The World Health Organization considers health to be "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

Mental health, as we understand it in 2015, is an integral part of our overall health and should be an integral part of health education in New York schools. By ensuring that young people learn about mental health, we increase the likelihood that they will be able to more effectively recognize signs in themselves and others, including family members, and get the right help.

Further, as we begin to teach the facts about mental health and openly discuss the issues from a health perspective, we will begin to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness - a stigma that causes ostracism and isolation, leads to bullying and keeps many students from getting the help they need.

Over 90% of youth who die by suicide suffer from depression or another diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death. Over 50 percent of students with emotional or behavioral disorders drop out of high school and, of those who do remain in school, only 42% graduate. Health education that respects the importance of mental health and challenges of mental illness will help young people and their families feel more comfortable seeking help, improve academic performance and save lives. As New York works to restructure and integrate systems of health and mental health care, so too should our schools prepare our citizens of tomorrow to think differently about the role of mental health in their lives.

This bill does not mandate curriculum. Students are already required to take health classes in order to graduate. Instead, this bill codifies in

statute what state regulations already recognize that health is multidimensional and, thereby brings state law up to date with our current

understanding of health.