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Letter: Mental health legislation will be a game changer for teens

Mental health legislation will be a game changer for teens

Across New York State and throughout the U.S., young people are experiencing more mental health challenges than ever before. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth age 15-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, when it reached its highest point in 40 years. The suicide rate for boys ages 15 to 19 rose by 30 percent over the same time period.

There are many reasons for this exponential increase. The advent of social media is believed to be a contributor. However, there are other indicators as well: academic stress, expectations of parents, social pressures (comparing oneself to one’s peers), not to mention social determinants such as poverty and lack of access to appropriate healthcare.

The Mental Health Education Law that was legislated in 2016, and scheduled for implementation this July, is designed to address these topics in schools across New York from grades K-12. This piece of legislation promises to be a game changer. Raising awareness about mental health and wellness in the classroom will have long-lasting effects. The proposed curriculum guidelines that are being considered by the New York State Education Department will enable districts to provide invaluable information to students.

Some schools already include mental health in their health curriculum, however this new law will ensure that all schools include topics such as depression, suicide, and self-care, to name but a few, into their classes. By ensuring that students are given the opportunity to learn about such subjects, educators will be able to help our youth gain a better understanding about mental health on par with other physical conditions like cancer and heart disease.

As it has been said before, “our children are our future.” And if we want to ensure that they are ready, then educating about mental health must be included in this preparation.

Karl Shallowhorn


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