Mental health education is now mandated in New York state schools — that's going to prove one of the most valuable lessons students grow up learning.
The education, still a work in progress, is to be infused into the broader health curriculum starting in kindergarten and continuing right through students' senior year.
That's such a smart move: Kids should absorb knowledge of mental health from an early age.
And hopefully, students will take what they learn home, as another vital piece of making sure children receive treatment when needed is knowledgeable parents.
Far too many adults only begin to understand diseases of the brain when they or someone they love is afflicted. Then they're playing catch-up, struggling to understand the complexities of mental illness and the challenges of treatment.
Ignorance of mental-health issues — at any age — can leave a person suffering needlessly, can delay vital treatment.
And remember, mental illness can be fatal. A lack of understanding can ultimately lead to suicide.
New York state passed the mandate in 2015, but an amendment to the regulations came out last May, according to Paul Savage, superintendent of AuSable Valley Central School District.
It says that "a satisfactory program in health education developed in accordance with the needs of pupils in all grades must include instruction in the several dimensions of health, and must Include mental health and the relation of physical and mental health; and enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity."
"It will take some time to fully implement K-12 but it is viewed as an important aspect of our educational programs and is highly valued by our school district," Mr. Savage told us.
Schools around the region, around the state are at that point, too. They need all the resources, all the support available to implement their programs.
Their biggest resource is the New York Mental Health Association's School Mental Health and Training Resource Center, which was established last year with $1 million in state funds. It has been working with educators to develop sample lesson plans and conducts training sessions at school districts around the state.
This month, according to a recent story by Zachary Matson in the Schenectady Gazette, Mental Health 101 seminars are educating teachers not only how to identify students' mental health issues, but how to address them appropriately.
The Mental Health Association hopes to keep the Resource Center rolling, even expand it, Matson wrote, but the governor's executive budget includes just $500,000 for it this year.
That's not enough, when there's still so much work to be done by the center to ready schools to meet the requirements for mental health education.
“This was not going to be one-and-done, overnight and schools are in compliance,” John Richter, director of public policy for the Mental Health Association, said in an interview with the Gazette earlier this month.
How important is this addition to curriculum?
Here's what the Gazette says: "As schools grapple with the rising mental health needs of youth, advocates of the mental health education law hope it will serve as the foundation for teaching students about how to recognize mental health challenges not only in themselves, but in their families and friends as well.
"Now that every student in the state will be taught about mental health and the resources available to them, advocates say, students can usher in a generation of mental health-informed citizens."
“Mental health matters to me, because it is everyone's issue,” Kirsty Ihenetu, a junior at Bethlehem High School in Albany County, told the Gazette at the Mental Health Association Health Matters Legislative Day in Albany earlier this week. “If you look around here to every single person around you, next to you, you don't know what they are going through.”
We urge our North Country leaders in Albany to fight for more Resource Center funding.
A mandate is only as good as the process that puts it in place and supports it in the future. And this is one that is undeniably critical to our young people and their families.