Mental Health Literacy for All Kids
In October of 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation making New York the first state in the nation to require all schools to provide instruction in mental health to K through 12 students. The new law became effective in July of 2018 and amends parts of Section 804 of the State Education Law; the section of law that addresses health instruction. It is not optional to give students the necessary tools to become literate in mental health. According to the MHANYS, mental health literacy is defined as “knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention.” Therefore, it is our job to provide all students with the skills necessary to develop healthy social-emotional skills in order to have successful academic relational and post-high school success.
According to “Healthy Young Minds” “a survey of teens ages 13 through 17 seventy percent said that anxiety and depression were major problems among themselves and their peers outranking other significant social problems such as bullying, substance use, teen pregnancy, and even poverty. This finding suggests that because teens themselves recognize their own mental health challenges, they may be more motivated to learn what they need to know about mental health to boost their own ability to recognize signs and symptoms and to get help” (MHANYS 2019). This percentage is alarming and it is necessary for us as educators to see the big picture and focus on the whole child. This is more than just an epidemic and it is our responsibility to educate our youth effectively in this subject matter, by law. In order to do this, it is necessary for us to become experts ourselves.
Schools need to recognize the necessity of a tiered support system and make all stakeholders aware of the role they play within the system. Mental health education does not mean that the health teachers should be teaching a unit on depression and then they have met the mandates. It requires ongoing education at multiple levels. Especially at the preventative level; tier I support. Under the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention System) framework, there is a systematic model approach to tiered support for mental health in schools. However, I have found that most educators are not aware of their responsibilities within the model. Therefore, we as future leaders need to understand and educate others on our role.
The PBIS model suggests that when we do Tier 1 well, 80% of the students respond favorably. If we do Tier 2 well 10-15% of students respond favorably. We should only have 5% left that actually need intense individualized support. Everyone needs to be doing tier 1, small groups of people doing tier 2, Then, that 5% is really for that individualized assistance. With Tier 1 playing such an essential role, it is necessary for all teachers to be given the tools to properly implement it. Some of the characteristics include: relationships and classroom climate, positive classroom environment and learning space, an established problem solving process, active supervision, classroom expectations explicitly taught and reinforced, encouraging the expected behavior, giving opportunities and encouragement for student engagement and response, empowering students increasing student engagement and motivation, an established routine for responding to minor problem behaviors by addressing and correcting as if correcting an academic error, and the necessity of self-reflection with task difficulty and modifications taken into affect.
It is the responsibility of the district and school to implement models and training for tier one support for all school staff. That includes the adults in all areas of the schools. It is important for the entire school and community to understand the necessity of mental health literacy. Social-emotional programs and character education are a must. There are many to choose from and this is the foundation for tier one. These systems teach CASEL’s competencies which are also a NYS mandate within the school system: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
This is really not something that we can roll out halfway. It is urgent that we implement strategies for the improvement of our society now. According to MHANYS, the delay of people dealing with their mental health issues is approximately ten years. There has been an extremely negative effect due to this delay. “This impact includes poorer long-term functioning, slower psychological maturation and slower uptake of adult responsibilities, strained relationships and subsequent loss of social supports, disruption of education and employment, increased use of alcohol and drugs and a greater chance of problems with the law. This level of impact in a young person’s life is then often internalized and manifested in a loss of self-esteem and confidence. And most tragically, the failure to get help early for mental health challenges far too often results in self-harm and suicide. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency rooms across the U.S. And most sobering is that one in 12 high school students has attempted suicide and one in 6 has seriously considered suicide.” This is the most current research and is alarming enough to fully dive into the initiative and genuinely implement the tiered system. We cannot wait until the student falls under the 5% tier. It is necessary to give them coping skills, strategies, and education to handle their lives successfully as children, teens, and adults.
Healthy Young Minds.”Increasing Student Wellness Through Mental Health Literacy.” (September 2019): MHANYS.