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Mental Health Education in Schools

In 2016, Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that requires schools to provide mental health instruction as part of K-12 health education. Below are several resources developed by the Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc. (MHANYS) outlining the legislative history and intent, as well as recommendations for implementing the law, including content for developing curriculum.

To help schools prepare for implementation of the law, MHANYS partnered with the State Education Department and the NYS Office of Mental Health to form the New York State Mental Health Advisory Council. The Advisory Council includes various education and behavioral health stakeholders.

The School Mental Health Resource and Training Center is committed to supporting the efforts of the Advisory Council, including the recommendations and guidance set forth by this group of dedicated and passionate stakeholders.

Woman writing PLAN on white board

Connecting Schools with Mental Health Education

NYS Mental Health Education Readiness Guide

The School Mental Health Resource and Training Center has developed an assessment guide for educators, administrators, and student support services staff to evaluate existing curriculum content in health and other subject areas, as well as building and district-wide initiatives that promote student mental health and wellness.

This guide was created for schools to use in its entirety or by selecting individual sections to best meet the needs of the district. The guide is best viewed online as it contains hyperlinks to “working” documents. The documents can be downloaded and printed, or downloaded and shared via a collaborative workspace to support multiple users.

Quick Access to Tools

Integrating Mental Health Education Into Secondary Curriculum Other Than Health

Promote Mental Health and Wellness in Your School Community

Use this worksheet to facilitate a team discussion about current practices and policies promoting mental health and wellness in your school:

Recommendations for Mental Health Education

The School Mental Health Resource and Training Center has outlined recommendations for schools to consider when identifying and/or developing mental health curriculum.

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.

Technical Assistance

While the guidance was developed for schools to use independently, the School Mental Health Resource and Training Center can provide technical assistance upon request. Please email or call 518-434-0439 for more information.