Gearing up for new mental health curriculum in schools

Jul 11, 2018

A new state law took effect July 1st that now requires mental health education in Kindergarten through 12th grade all across New York.  WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says this is the first law of its kind in the nation and now schools must be ready by September.

“We're available to work with schools on their curriculum - how to interface with communities,” said Dr. Ann Sullivan, Commissioner with the State Office of Mental Health.

Allendale classroom in West Seneca School District.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

The Mental Health Education Act was passed earlier this year by the state legislature. Under a section of State Education law, this will be part of physical health education for all elementary, middle and high schools students.

Sullivan tells WBFO News this is “huge” in working to break down mental illness stigma.

“And I think that is going to begin at the school level of talking about mental illness, of talking about mental wellness, of talking about how you cope with stress – how you deal with it and it's going to bound at the first grade and kindergarten level in terms of good social skills and being able to talk about your problems - all the way up through high school,” Sullivan explained.

The new law adds mental health in instruction applying to all public and private schools that fall on the State Education Department. 

Catholic School in Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

“We want to normalize mental health and mental health treatment,” declared State Assemblyman Sean Ryan of Buffalo.

Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) is now working to help schools comply with the law.

Ryan said this is the first step and the state education department is trying to help districts to set up curriculums.

“But it’s up to the districts to implement. But with many things the first year might be a little rocky, but the second year will get better – by the end of the program we hope to have it so people treat mental health as a common problem that can be remedied,” Ryan remarked.

Classroom at International Prep in Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

"The State of New York has stepped up. We are actually acting as a model when it comes to education when it comes to mental health,” said State Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo.

Kennedy calls this new mental health law the “missing link”.

“The missing component to education in the state of New York and quite frankly across the United States, so it’s very important that individuals throughout not only Western New York, but the entire state – quite frankly the nation – have that education and background to understand and to be aware of the signs and symptoms of someone that may be dealing with a mental health issue so they can get them the help and services that are necessary and that are available,” Kennedy noted.

A new School Mental Health Education Resource and Training Center has now been established where teachers, students, parents and guardians can go on-line. There’s mental health training, instructional and resources.