A psychotherapist could very well agree that the stigma associated with mental illnesses stands as a barrier which gets in the way of creating social environments that are conducive to recovery. The alarming thing about this reality is as the stigma gets louder, more and more people suffer from mental illnesses in silence.
How Widespread Are Mental Illnesses?
The National Institute of Mental Health conducted studies revealing that in the US, about 20% of adults experienced an anxiety disorder in 2017 and around 31% will experience it at some point in their lifetimes. Also, approximately 7% have experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lives. On the other hand, among children, about 23% of more than 10,000 adolescents have been diagnosed with severe mental issues. Still, in other studies, it was discovered that half of the mental illnesses begin at as young as 14 years old, while 75% of mental disorders find their onset at the age of 24.
With the prevalence of mental health issues nowadays especially among children, New York States recent decision to include mental health as part of the curriculum in schools is both timely and essential.
“Mental health is complex, and it would be a lot easier if we were like cars.” – Dr. Mitch Keil, clinical psychologist
What Will Happen In This Curriculum Change?
According to Bill Number A3887B issued by the New York State Assembly, school districts are being called upon to ensure that their health education programs recognize the various dimensions of health and as such, include mental health alongside physical health in health education. A new paragraph is thereby added to the Education Law 504, effective ever since July 1, 2018.
Note that this is a change that will happen across the board. Even kindergartens will get exposure on mental health education at their tender age. According to Kristen Purcell, Assistant Coordinator for Innovative Teaching and Learning at OCM BOCES, mental health education in kindergarten would look like a teacher sitting in the midst of a circle of five and six-year-old toddlers. They will devote portions of the school time just talking about how they feel and what makes them happy, sad, or upset. On the other hand, for high school and college students, instructors will go on a deep dive for a more comprehensive take on the subject matter.
Why The Need For This Change?
Legislators justify this curriculum change as a way to update the New York State law. It keeps public education at par with the recent advancements in the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses. The said law is already 40 years old. It is the right time to make it at pace with the changing times.
“Awareness is the beginning of all change.” – Karla Helbert, LPC, E-RYT, C-IAYT
The inclusion of mental health topics in the curriculum is also a statement about how people ought to recognize the importance of mental health. It should have as much importance as physical health. State law is practically telling everyone that mental illnesses aren’t as visible as other diseases. However, it does not diminish their intensity and harmful effects. The World Health Organization considers health to be a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Mental health is just as significant as other aspects of wellness.
Moreover, teaching mental health to students allows them to be more self-aware. People who are knowledgeable about mental health are more likely to recognize it when they start to feel it. Thus, know when and how to seek help. Understanding of mental diseases also allows them to think through their feelings properly. They do not just dismiss their feelings as fleeting emotions. They tend to be more confident to speak up.
Finally, an initiative from the State to recognize mental health and espouse it in educational institutions is a progressive move. This creates a society that is more embracing of differences in mental states among people. It has a huge role in breaking the stigma against mental illnesses and those who experience it. By teaching the young generation, people with mental health concerns will get both assistance and acceptance.
New York is the first state in the US to require mental health to be a part of education programs. This progress gives us a glimmer of hope. Soon, more states and countries all over the world can also embrace mental health as a social concern. Our educational institutions can adequately address this issue. In no time, we will be able to recreate a society that embraces differences and disabilities. It is possible even at the level that is not visible to the naked eye.
“Mental health struggles are real. They can be painful. You may feel alone. In some of the darkest times, you may feel like something is “wrong” with you to the core.” – Erica Thompson, LMFT, LPCC