By Megan Valle and Daniel Marcillo
Suffolk County, NY – A New York State law that went into effect on July 1st, 2018 requires schools to include mental health education into curriculums for grades K-12 following the increase in mental health issues among high school students.
The law, which was written in 2015, went into effect over the summer and mandates all state school districts to teach kids about mental health in classrooms. The law says mental health “is an integral part of our overall health and should be an integral part of health education in New York schools.”
“I believe mental health is super important to address in high schools especially today because teens often struggle with problems like anxiety and depression that could lead them to self-harm,” Ella Naima, Huntington High School student, said.
The law comes into effect at a time when mental health issues among high school students is apparent. Approximately 1 in 5 teenagers ages 13 to 18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their life, according to a study published by the National Alliance on Mental Health. Guidance counselors and psychologists specialize in helping students communicate their feelings with someone who is willing to listen and help.
“You can never have enough resources for these kids,” Nicole Kregler, Director of Guidance at the Commack High School, explained. Commack High School has 9 counselors, 2 social workers, and 4 psychologists for about 2500 students.
Commack High School is being proactive about mental health by incorporating ways to destress students throughout the school day. The school has added a moment of mindfulness every morning during homeroom and is actively educating teachers and faculty on how to approach topics like depression and anxiety.
Most importantly, Kregler noted, they are making sure parents are involved in the conversation and know what’s going on with their children.
Some parents feel it is extremely important to educate kids on mental health for their own safety. Despite the clear connection between school shootings and gun ownership of automatic rifles, some parents still believe mental health is part of the issue.
“If you look at every school shooter over the last few years there is a huge connection between them,” Dan Fusco, a parent whose children have graduated from the Commack School District, said. “ We put their mental health to the side.”
At the Commack School District Board Meeting, Fusco proposed adding armed guards, metal detectors and reinforced entryways to the school. Other parents do not share the same concern as Fusco when it comes to the importance of mental health education.
“They’ve [my two kids] expressed concerns about the counseling and mental health issues but it’s not a priority for me,” Lisa Silverman, the mother of two teens in the Commack School District said. She expressed her satisfaction with the way the district addresses mental health.
The new law states that while schools have been required to address physical health concerns “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.”
“We struggle to admit when children need help with their mental health issues, whether it is emotional or psychiatric,” Linda Dalton, a nurse at the Commack High School, explained. “Their mental health deserves the same care that their physical health receives.”
The law was passed on July 1st, giving schools about 9 weeks to create lesson plans that include mental health. School districts like the Commack School District and the Three Village School District, haven’t completed their plan on how to address the topic.
“We are in the process of evaluating how we currently address this topic in our Health Education classes and are gathering additional information from NYS through conferences and seminars,” Erin Blaney, Assistant Director for Health and Physical Ed. in the Three Village School District, stated.
Mental health education will be included as part of any existing classroom teaching on physical health. For middle and high schools, it will be taught by the respective school’s health teachers.