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NYS schools now required to cover mental health education. This WNY school is leading the way.

Posted: 4:54 PM, Aug 16, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-16 18:17:23-04

When school gets back in full swing this September, many students in New York State will be introduced to mental health curriculum for the first time. That's thanks to a 2015 New York State law that went into affect July 1.

The law requires schools to add mental health education to existing state-mandated health classes. Those classes already cover things like alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

"It has got to be a new way of thinking, a new way of teaching," said Mark Laurrie, superintendent for Niagara Falls City School District.

Many schools are figuring out how to add mental health to their curriculum for the new school year, but Niagara Falls was focused on the topic before the bill was passed.

For the past few years in the district, students have been introduced to mental health curriculum from Pre-K through 12th grade. The State Office of Mental Health even recognized Laurrie for his work in May, naming him as an honoree at its annual "What's Great in Our State" event.

"Addressing mental health issues in students is something that we want to take head on," Laurrie said. "Without strong mental health supports, the curriculum of English, math, science, social studies really doesn't mean anything."

NFCSD includes age appropriate lessons for all of its students. The district says by starting at a young age, it can help students develop important skills and awareness around mental health that become more valuable as they grow up.

"Mental health is not a negative connotation," Bryan Rotella said. He's a school psychologist at NFCSD. "It's something we always have to work on. We all have mental health and we all have physical health. Depending on where you are, is if it's in a good place or not."

The district also has teachers and staff go through mental health first aid training. Like first aid training teaches people to notice distress and how to respond, this kind of mental health training shows people how to notice emotional distress and offer support to the individual.

The 2015 law indicates just how important this education can be for students. According to the law, "90 percent of youth who die by suicide suffer from depression or another diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death."

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