Due to a recent increase in the teen suicide rate, two states are now requiring mental health education be taught in schools as part of the health curriculum. New York will mandate mental health education in all K-12 classrooms while Virginia is making it a requirement for ninth and tenth graders. Other states have been trying to combat the trend, but New York and Virginia represent the first two states nationwide to make the courses obligatory.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that while fewer teens are having sex and doing drugs, more are battling depression and feelings of hopelessness. According to a different report from the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the 10th highest cause of death in the US and is one of just three causes of death that are currently increasing in frequency.
“People are talking more about youth mental health and the effects of trauma on kids, but it’s taken a long time to get traction,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America.”I think what we’ve seen recently in terms of school shootings is spurring this. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a number of states go in the same direction over the next few years.”
Not only has the number of teen suicides increased, but the number of attempted suicides is still a problem as well. According to a 2015 CDC survey, nine percent of high school students try to commit suicide every year. In response to the surge, states like Florida, for example, have increased funding for school counseling and have made attempts to train students and staff in suicide prevention. Still, there are 20 states that don’t require counselors to be present on school grounds.
And the path to mandating mental health education is long. It took seven years to get the mandate passed in New York, and it was largely a link between the developing opioid crisis and mental health struggles that ultimately spurred officials to consider changing the curriculum.
“We teach them how to detect the signs of cancer and how to avoid accidents, but we don’t teach them how to recognize the symptoms of mental illness,” said Dustin Verga, a high school health teacher in Clifton, New York. “It’s a shame because, like cancer, mental health treatment is much more effective if the disease is caught early.”