Virginia and New York Lead the Path to Mental Health Education Laws


Anika Rahman

Bronx Science students enjoy a yoga class, one of many ways our school is working to reduce stress levels of our students.

The prevalence of Americans with mental health issues has become a growing problem. Suicide rates have increased in all but one state from 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; suicide is now the third leading cause of death among fifteen to twenty-four-year-olds.  Many of the problems, including anxiety, social phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, stem from childhood. These issues are often carried into adulthood, which is why mental health education should be mandated in all schools nationwide.

In early July 2018, Virginia and New York became the first two states to require mental health education in all public schools. School curriculums have shifted from only discussing the importance of our physical health, to discussing both the importance of mental health as well. This combination enhances students’ understanding of overall health and promotes better health practices to improve overall well-being.

These laws are part of a greater movement in promoting more awareness on mental health and its effects.

The law first came to be when Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds was inspired by a presentation by high school students in Albemarle County. The presentation addressed issues such as bullying and students being overly stressed. Having witnessed suicides and depression, the students of Albemarle were determined to petition for more awareness towards mental health and an increase in counseling staffs.

Bronx Science, following the example of the Virginia mental health bill, has also began to incorporate more mental health discussions into its health curriculum. “We should all know the basics about how mental health affects a person and what we can do to help that person,” said Katelyn Yang ’19. Bronx Science offers a mandatory health course that all students need to take before graduating. The course teaches the importance of  physical, emotional, and mental health in order to prevent students from engaging in risky behaviors and in order to learn skills that can be used to make healthy choices throughout their lives.

Additionally, Bronx Science also holds several “mental health weeks” each year that provide stress relieving activities during school. There are also numerous guidance counselors and deans to contact when students are feeling overly stressed by classes, family, or even friends.

More schools should strive towards providing access to mental health resources for their students, following Bronx Science’s model. Adolescents are generally more vulnerable to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. To prevent the occurrence of these problems, schools nationwide should educate their students on the importance of maintaining not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. The Virginia mental health law also corrects misperceptions regarding people who suffer from mental health problems by educating students early on. It influences how students treat their peers who suffer with these mental issues and how students should approach their peers dealing with mental health issues.

New York and Virginia are setting examples for other states to write similar bills. These laws are part of a greater movement in promoting more awareness on mental health and its effects. We are one step closer in achieving more education and awareness nationwide.