Mental health advocates believe early intervention is key to lowering the suicide rate and effectively addressing mental health.
Mental health education is now required in two U.S. states, New York and Virginia, from as young as the elementary school level. The respective laws were enacted on Sunday, July 1.
The goal is to counter the growing suicide rate and give support to young people who may be vulnerable to mental illness early on. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-24, according to the CDC.
Since 1999, the suicide rate has increased by 30% in the United States, the agency reported in June.
Mental health advocates believe that early intervention is key to lowering the suicide rate and effectively addressing mental health. The New York law states that “90% of youth who die by suicide suffer from depression or another diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death.”
Lack of mental health support can result in fatal consequences. Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds saw this for himself, with the suicide death of his 24-year-old son Austin “Gus” Deeds in 2013.
In the aftermath, Deeds said “the system failed my son” when it could not provide a psychiatric bed less than 24 hours before his son’s death.
Deeds created the Virginia law with the help of Albemarle County high school students who had presented a proposal to address mental health issues in schools to the state senator in 2017.
“I was impressed by their thoughtfulness, because a lot of these young people had seen bullying. They had seen depression,” said Deeds, according to CNN. “They had seen classmates that had died by suicide. It’s part of tearing down the stigma and providing some equality with those that struggle with mental health.”
Virginia’s law adds mental health education to the physical education and health curriculum for 9th and 10th graders.
In New York, mental health is now included in the health curriculum in elementary, middle, and high schools. “[Mental health] is an integral part of our overall health and should be an integral part of health education in New York schools,” the law states.
Half of lifetime mental health issues develop before age 14, but on average, most will wait 10 years before seeking help, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).