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Mandated Mental Health Education in NYS Public Schools Could Help Break Down Stigma Early

For the first time ever, public schools in Central New York and across the state are mandated to teach mental health awareness.  The idea is to help students understand their own well-being…and that of others who may be in distress.  

Director of the State Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Doctor Jay Carruthers  says a recent state survey shows that youth suicide attempts continue to rise.

"One in ten of our New York State high school students are reporting that they had at least one suicide attempt in the prior 12 months.”                                            

One goal of the new law is to break down the stigma of mental illness in schools and get students comfortable enough to seek assistance.  CEO of the Mental Health Association of New York Glenn Liebman says it will be a broader discussion about wellness tools… not Psychology 101.

"It's OK.  A large percentage of the population has some some sort of mental health issue at one time or another in their lives.  There is a trajectory around wellness, and that people should recognize that in all likelihood that they will get better.  There used to be this notion that people didn't recover from mental illness.  Well, they do.  They recover all the time.  That's part of what we want to teach.”                         

Students will learn about the help they can reach out for, if needed.  Liebman says 50 percent of all people who experience anxiety develop it by 14 years-old.  He stresses that social-emotional learning content will be appropriate to the grade-level from elementary school through high school.

"When you're talking about junior high school and high school, you can have more serious discussions about things like suicide prevention and serious anxity, and how to cope with that, how to reduce the stress and stigma.  That becomes much more complicated and a much richer discussion than you would have with a younger person."

The first-in-the-nation legislation went into effect on July first.  The association has launched the School Mental Health Resource & Training Center as schools develop their own curricula.  In-depth content and lesson plan resources for educators will be released over the summer online at Mental Health

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at