Should Mental Health Education be part of a High School Curriculum?

Students returning to school this fall in Virginia and New York 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.

A similar bill was signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in September 2016 and became effective on July 1, 2018. 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 the 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.”

Some of the guidelines from the advisory council in New York include:

  • Mental health as part of overall health and wellness
  • Identifying mental health problems early on
  • Removing the stigma surrounding mental health and the discrimination against people who suffer from mental health problems
  • Places to find appropriate help and support

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.