Beginning next year, elementary, middle and high schools in New York state will be required to include mental health education in the health curriculum.
“New York State is the first state in the country to do this and I think that's phenomenal. We are taking the lead and setting an example on what to do and how to help these young people,” said Karl Shallowhorn, director of community advocacy for the Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo.
Shallowhorn also serves on the board of the Mental Health Association of New York State, which pushed for legislation to require mental health education, and is now working with the NY State Department of Education to develop the curriculum.
"Frankly, we need this and we need it more than ever I believe," Shallowhorn said.
It is estimated that one in five people live with some sort of mental disorder or disease.
Further, according to the state Mental Health Association, the average age of early signs of mental illness is 14.
However, the average age that individuals seek help is 24.
That's 10 years during the most formative years of any person's life.
Moreover, 60 percent of high school students who have a mental illness do not graduate.
“We want to get help to people early so that with earlier intervention we can have a more positive outcome,” Shallowhorn said. “Students will be more knowledgeable, and so will their teachers, about what to look for if a person is in need of help. They'll be able to know what the resources are, and by having it as part of the curriculum, it will also normalize the topic of mental health."
Translation: If you're teaching kids about leading a healthy lifestyle and avoiding risky behavior or the illnesses that can impact same, then why not teach them about this?
“Mental health is something we should able to discuss just like any other health issue, whether it be diabetes or cancer or whatever," Shallowhorn said.
According to Shallowhorn, the goal -- like in many other curricula -- is for the state to issue guidelines and then leave it up to schools on how best to meet them.
Although, much like many other topics taught in health class in particular, the aim of the guidelines will be to ensure that at all times the information shared is age appropriate.