Over the last few years, there has been a rise in children with mental health issues. What used to be an adult issue has fast progressed to include not only teenagers but young children of all ages.
Mental health has always been a very sensitive topic, with many people suffering from a mental illness only being diagnosed later in life.
The National Institute of Mental Health research indicates that most of these adults already start presenting symptoms in their childhood, and if treatment had been started at this younger age, then it could have prevented more severe and longer lasting problems. This is especially true for illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
New York has taken a positive step towards early detection of mental illness by making it mandatory for all NY schools to implement mental health teaching programs into their health education programs.
With the start of the fall semester, all students right across the board starting at the kindergarten level will be learning about identifying mental health issues and learning all the important tools and resources for help.
Mental Health experts are singing this new programs praises and citing it as “a big deal” (according to NBC News)
Why is This Such a Big Deal?
According to experts, this new program could not come at a more crucial time.
20% of children and adolescents will experience severe mental health disorders and 50 % of these mental illnesses start by age 14.
Jump-starting the mental health awareness through these learning programs will make a huge impact on the lives of these young children and teenagers.
The NY State Mental Health Education Advisory Council was established in August 2017 to assist in setting up this new program and shaping the curriculum. The suggested curriculum outline included:
- Breaking down stigmas
- Practicing self-care.
- It also includes digital resources packed with discussion boards, lesson plans and additional resources. The added benefit of a digital platform will enable children and parents to work through any assignments and know what is being taught.
So How Does One Go About Introducing this Subject to Children at the Kindergarten Level?
Kristen Purcell, Assistant Coordinator Innovative Teaching & Learning at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison Counties BOCES, provided a detailed explanation.
“For kindergarten” the mental health education scenario will be as follows:
- A teacher will seat five and six-year-olds in a circle and facilitate talking about emotions and feelings.
- Discussions will be on things such as “what it feels like when you’re upset”.
- How to deal with negative emotions.
- The main focus for these younger children will be on how to adequately recognize and deal with emotions and feelings.
- They will also be taught how to handle negative situations and other children’s negative emotions.
The benefit of this program is that the students will reap the rewards further down the line when they start reaching preadolescence and adolescent years when they need to deal with “bigger feelings and bigger emotions”.
Life becomes a lot more complex, the amount of stress and different scenarios that teenagers need to adapt to and cope with quickly become overwhelming. Many teens nowadays admit to “not coping” with “everything”.
“Everything” is a very broad term and could relate to just one specific day or really mean that they are not coping with anything, knowing the difference is vital.
For older students, the curriculum will be more in-depth and topics will include:
- Spotting the signs of depression.
- Learning how to develop positive relationships – this is a vital lesson for formative years.
- The primary focus is to give children a “toolbox” of knowledge on how to regulate emotions, build resilience, practice self-care and handle problems that surpass their abilities to handle alone.
With these newly developed skills, the NY State Education Department will be equipping young children and teens to learn all of the important aspects of overall well-being and health.
Effectively it will teach children to recognize mental health signs and symptoms in both themselves and others, this will, in turn, lead to them being able to help their peers.
What’s more, the stigma around mental health illnesses can be decreased and enable sufferers to be open about their issues and seek help sooner. Removing the negative image of any mental health issue is a huge leap forward, ensuring that people can get the help needed at a much younger age and have a positive long-term prognosis.
Breaking down negative barriers surrounding mental health disorders, which range from more common illnesses such as depression and anxiety, all the way through to more complex illnesses – such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia- is certainly a good place to start.
There is so much that still needs to be learned about different mental health disorders, and once we start focusing on the solution rather than the problem, then we are all on the same track to healing a future generation (and an existing one).