Good news! New York and Virginia have just become the first two states to require mental health education in public school curriculums!
Both mandates went into effect last Sunday, and will require that lessons covering the basics of mental health and mental illness be taught in public high schools along with regular health education. New York’s law pushes the envelope even farther, CNN points out, by requiring that introductory mental health lessons also be required in elementary and middle schools.
The bad news is that these radical new education requirements were likely introduced to respond to the rising epidemic that is the current suicide rate in this country, particularly among young adults. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that the number of teens contemplating or attempting suicide nearly tripled between 2008 and 2015, as reported by Fortune.
This means that for young people, specifically between the ages 15 to 24, suicide is now the second leading cause of death.
Take a moment to think about that. That statistic is nothing less than an absolutely overwhelming and appalling tragedy. Every single one of those deaths could have been prevented, at least in part with the help of basic education around how mental illness works and affects its victims.
The untimely deaths of Anthony Bordain and Kate Spade last month brought this conversation back to the forefront on social media, but studies show that the weeks after a prominent suicide can be the worst to talk about these issues publicly, because they can inspire an uptick in “copycat” scenarios.
Instead, we need to get better at talking about mental health openly, honestly, and frequently, with the same vigor and reverence that we discuss physical health.
Here are a few ways to start doing so today:
- If your school or workplace offers free counseling services, make an appointment with them. Even if you’re not struggling with your mental health right now, it is valuable to be familiar with the resources available to you, and to know how they work. Don’t make excuses. One or two appointments won’t kill you.
- Check in on your loved ones. As the saying goes, every single person is fighting a battle you know nothing about, so occasionally ask people (preferably in private) how they’re doing, and let them know (often) how much you love them.
- Practice treating and talking about mental health the same way you would about a physical ailment or a bodily injury. You wouldn’t beat yourself up for missing an event because you had a fever, so give yourself permission to nurse your emotions in the same way.