There’s a growing acceptance that mental illness is a real disorder, affects more people than previously assumed, and is something that can be treated and managed given the right tools.
But growing acceptance isn’t the same as universal awareness. People don’t always know how to recognize mental illness, and to be fair, the signs can be subtle. Mental illness can masquerade as substance abuse, for example, when people turn to alcohol and drugs to numb their inner pain.
Nor do many people want to even consider a diagnosis of mental illness because of its stigma. Mental illness has been linked to violent acts, such as the Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech massacres, and suicides, including high-profile ones like Robin Williams in 2014.
The State Legislature has passed a bill that mandates that public schools incorporate mental health instruction into their health class curricula. Sponsor and Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) said health education law is vague about whether lessons on mental health must be taught with those on physical health. So, some districts teach about mental health, and others do not. Marcellino and his colleagues want to make the teaching mandatory. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should sign this bill.
Making sure young people learn about mental health will make them more likely to recognize the signs in themselves and others, and they will know better how to get the right help. Open discussion will reduce the stigma of mental illness and the likelihood that people who are suffering will hide in the shadows, afraid of seeking help.
This is a lesson whose time has come.
— The editorial board