ALBANY, N.Y. >> New York's schools will have to teach about mental health in their state-mandated health classes beginning in two years.

The 40-year-old mandate for health education already specifically requires teaching about alcohol, drugs, tobacco and the prevention and detection of cancers. The law adding mental health teaching as a requirement was signed Friday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and takes effect in July 2018.

According to the bill's sponsors, the updated curriculum will increase the likelihood that students recognize the signs of mental illness in themselves and others and seek help when it's needed. About 50 percent of students with emotional or behavioral disorders drop out of high school. The sponsors also hope to reduce the stigma that leads to isolation, ostracism and bullying.

In New York, many schools already teach about mental illness, said Glenn Liebman, chief executive of the Mental Health Association of New York State. "But a lot of schools don't."

A federally funded survey of more than 9,000 people in 2004 estimated that half of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental disorder in their lives, with the first onset usually in childhood or adolescence. It found that anxiety disorders were acknowledged by about 29 percent, with the median age for onset 11 years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of health risks showed almost 18 percent of youths said in 2015 that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months. Nearly 15 percent said they made an actual plan, and almost 9 percent made an attempt, including 3 percent whose attempt resulted in an injury, poisoning or drug overdose that required medical treatment.


In his approval message, Cuomo said the legislation contained a drafting error, written to encompass "all schools" under state Education Department jurisdiction, which would include college, trade and proprietary schools. Lawmakers have agreed to pass another bill to limit it to elementary, junior high and high schools, he wrote.