Recommendations for Mental Health Instruction

The School Mental Health Resource and Training Center has outlined recommendations for schools to consider when identifying and/or developing mental health curriculum.  For technical assistance, please contact schools@mhanys.org or call 518.434.0439 Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.  In-person support is also available through our network of Mental Health Association affiliates and Regional Representatives.  

Utilize a public health approach.

All students, as well as families/caregivers and school staff, will benefit from an understanding of key concepts in mental health and wellness, and the development of life-long skills and resources that transcend the young person’s present role as a student.  As schools develop a plan to educate youth, they should also consider:

  • district-wide mental health and wellness initiatives
  • professional development trainings for all school staff
  • opportunities to raise awareness about mental health concerns with parents/caregivers
Adopt a social emotional learning (SEL) framework.

Schools are encouraged to view social-emotional learning as a “framework”, not solely the implementation of an SEL program.  NYSED has developed benchmarks and guidance to support the development of SEL core competencies; view graphic of competencies and sequential skills.   Additionally, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a great resource for schools.  CASEL’s program guides (elementary and secondary) are a great resource for identifying evidence-based SEL programs.  

Focus on mental wellness, as well as mental health literacy.

Mental health literacy includes concepts such:

  • protective factors and the prevention of mental health disorders
  • recognition of signs and symptoms
  • understanding of how to seek help and treatment options
  • coping strategies and self-help skills
  • support for others

Mental health education should extend beyond those concepts to include an understanding of mental health as a continuum and the relationship between mental health and physical health.  A comprehensive approach to mental health education will help to reduce stigma and promote a culture and climate of wellness.

Identify a Team to Assess, Develop and Evaluate.

Mental Health Education should be collaborative and build on existing efforts.  It is recommended that schools follow these steps:

  • identify a team to take responsibility for developing and implementing mental health education.  It doesn’t have to be a team created for this purpose; it may be an existing team, such as the District Health Advisory Committee.  Consider representatives from various departments and content areas (including Art, Family and Consumer Science and others outside of the core subjects), administrators (district and building level), school nurse, school social worker, school counselor, school psychologist, library media specialist and representative(s) from parent groups or Board of Education.  Remember to include representatives for K through 12.
  • assess for what is already being done.  For example, do elementary classroom teachers discuss feeling identification and appropriate expression? Do they teach relaxation strategies? Are mental health themes present in assigned literature?  Are mental health disorders discussed in biology? Identify gaps and opportunities for enhancing existing mental health instruction efforts.
  • develop a system for evaluating mental health instruction and identifying new opportunities.
Engage in small group discussions.

While some programs offer “assembly” style instruction, it is preferable to engage students in lessons on mental health literacy in small groups or in the classroom setting to support safety and learning.  Include school support personnel whenever possible, such as School Social Workers and School Counselors.  

Collaborate with community providers and subject matter experts.

Mental health experts, advocates and community providers can help deliver mental health instruction.  In addition, recipients of mental health services are a valuable resource for sharing stories of lived experience with mental health challenges and recovery.  These community partners can also educate school personnel delivering mental health instruction to ensure they have adequate knowledge, education and training.

Contact Us

Please contact us at schools@mhanys.org or call 518.434.0439 from 8 am to 5 pm.

To find out who your regional representative is, click here.

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