Addressing Mental Health in Massachusetts
Updated: Jun 6, 2019
Massachusetts’ Bill S.244 was concurred on January 22, 2019 about mental health education.
How common are mental health issues?
According to the CDC, one in five children have experienced a debilitating mental illness, and 300 million people in total experience depression, according to the World Health Organization. In the 2017 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 12.4% of students reported seriously considering suicide within the past year.
Despite the fact that mental issues are so common, schools are not providing children with a proper understanding of mental health. Undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues can harm a student’s ability to learn and grow, can lead to developing negative coping mechanisms, and at worst, to suicide.
Why should schools address mental health?
Stigma and misconception starts young. School is where friendships begin, and kids start to develop their self-worth. Conflicts, bullying, and social exclusion at school all harm a student’s mental health, and peers should understand the repercussions their actions may have on other students. In addition, awareness of mental health issues is key to making sure they are addressed. Up to 80% of children who may need treatment or assistance never receive it. Unaddressed mental health issues can lead to prolonged absences, underachievement, disruptions or acting out, and dropouts.
79% of British parents agree that schools should teach more about mental illness, according to the Shaw Mind Foundation. Awareness is key to reducing stigma, ensuring kids get help, and ensuring school is a safe place for students struggling with mental illness.
What is Bill S.244?
Bill S.244 requires physical and mental health education in all grades for all students. Mental health education programs would recognize the relationship between physical and mental health, to “enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity.” It also replaces Chapter 76, Section 1 of the General Laws, which relates to school attendance. Among other things, it grants exceptions to “a child whose physical or mental condition is such as to render attendance inexpedient or impracticable subject to the provisions of section three of chapter seventy-one B.” This refers to the General Law identifying and aiding children with disabilities.
Mental illness is incredibly common and important to young students, and education about mental illness is key to reducing stigma, increasing awareness, and making sure children struggling with mental health issues get the assistance they need. Bill S.244 is crucial to improving the lives of Massachusetts students.