Shared from the 1/31/2018 Albany Times Union eEdition


Teach mental well-being

Photo illustration by Jeff Boyer / Times Union

Public schools have long taught that a good diet and exercise are essential to maintain proper health. Thanks to a new state law, students will soon be trained to nurture and sustain their own mental wellbeing. It couldn’t be more needed.

More than ever, the youth of today are bombarded with messages via both social and traditional media on how to look, act and fit in. As frequent users of the internet, they are also more vulnerable to sexual harassment and bullying. Add that to what seems like a greater emphasis than ever on academic performance and testing, plus the usual stresses of navigating teenage years, and it’s no wonder young people are highly prone to intense anxiety and its ill-effects.

Recognizing and addressing this early, though, can avoid lifelong challenges.

People who experience mental disorders often don’t seek treatment. Many don’t recognize their own symptoms, or aren’t fully aware of the implications, so they don’t ask for help. Unfortunately, for many people mental illness still carries a social stigma. Why? We don’t similarly stigmatize people who have a physical ailment.

One strategy for dealing with this is to teach young people about various mental illnesses and the options for help, so they can better spot early warning signs and know where to turn for assistance.

A law sponsored by Catherine Nolan, an Assembly Democrat, and Carl Marcellino, a Senate Republican, and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016, requires mental health literacy in public elementary, middle and high school health curricula. The state Department of Education is now working with local districts to develop a model curriculum that is expected to be available in June.

The Mental Health Association of New York State, which advocated for this curriculum expansion, notes that untreated mental illness is costly: Research shows that an unrecognized and untreated mental disorder can trigger a series of negative events that increase chances of substance use and other risky behavior, including criminal acts. Untreated mental illness can also result in poor academic performance and reduced chances of graduating. Most troubling is an increased risk of mental health emergencies such as self-injury and suicide.

Adapting to this new mandate and developing a local curriculum costs time and money for school districts, many of which are already coping with tight budgets. The governor and Legislature must recognize in state budget talks that districts face new costs to either hire qualified mental health teachers or train current staff to teach this material.

The cost of not addressing this is doubtless much greater. The World Health Organization estimates that depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses worldwide cost upwards of $1 trillion annually. New York’s move to put young people on the road to a lifetime of good mental health is a smart way to help ease this burden.

THE ISSUE: Public schools in New York will soon be teaching mental health literacy.

THE STAKES: The program will help ensure healthier and happier lives for those who receive the instruction. That’s a win for all of society.


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