Schools throughout the state now require mental health to be added to the curriculum.
A change to the state’s education law makes New York the first state to require mental health education be taught in schools.
One in five people live with mental disorders nationwide. In New York State, nearly 20 percent of people are affected.
“More and more students are coming to school with mental health issues and whatever we can do to help them with those situations is something that we think is beneficial,” said Dr. Brian Bellair, superintendent of Whitesboro Central School District.
Bellair says while mental health education is not a new topic being taught in their schools, they are updating their curriculum to align with the new mandate. Studies show that the average age for a mental illness diagnoses is 14, but most people don’t seek help until they’re adults.
“The earlier that we can give them strategies and implement programs for them to make them feel good about themselves and to make them become productive citizens, that’s our goal as a K-12 program,” said David Russo, Assistant Superintendent of Whitesboro Central School District.
Charlene Emeterio, clinical supervisor, says the stigma associated with mental illness prevents people from getting proper help.
“The earlier that you start educating our youth, the better it will be and hopefully in the future there won’t be a stigma about mental health,” Emeterio said.
The law aims to help students understand and cope with issues associated with mental health, and also lessen the threat of violence in schools.
“That’s certainly the hope that all those violent incidents that are occurring in schools will decrease,” Bellair said. “We know that those that are the perpetrators, in those cases, often times have mental health issues that either were unknown or unaddressed. So, certainly the aim of this initiative is to decrease all those types of situations that happen in schools.”