Proposed legislation would require mental health curriculum in Alaska schools
Tobacco, drugs, alcohol and safe sex are often talked about in schools, but what about depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide? Proposed legislation aims to expand the conversation on mental health.
Representative Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) introduced House Bill 181, which would expand existing health education requirements to include mental health education in grades K through 12. The goal of the legislation is to make sure students are adequately educated on information about mental health symptoms, resources, and treatment.
"I think the pressure of just being at the age that we are in school and thinking about college and a lot of social pressures that we get put on us are extremely heavy and can cause stuff like that which is really hard to deal with on your own," said Eagle River High School Junior, Irish Wolfe.
A group of students at Eagle River High School called the 'You Are Not Alone Club, or YANA, is working to spread awareness about available mental health resources, such as The Alaska Careline.
"Had I not been in the club I would know none of it and how to help other people and try to better our community and stuff like that," said Wolfe. "I think it would just be amazing if we could have that in curriculum so everyone is learning it, not just the thirty or forty of us that are in YANA."
It's part of a conversation and education that could someday be required at Alaska schools, if the proposed legislation passes.
"There is definitely a dire need," said Counseling Coordinator for the Anchorage School District, Diane Lemon. "We have kids everyday coming and talking about anxiety and depression, and suicide ideation. It's rampant in our community, it's rampant in our nation."
The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development, and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development would develop guidelines for mental health instruction, and would also be responsible for implementation of the new curriculum.
"According to the 2017 Alaska High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which surveyed 1,343 high school students across the state, more than one in three students reported feeling sad or hopeless," Representative Claman said. "The state has a responsibility to treat the current mental health crisis in Alaska as a serious public health issue."
HB181 aims to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness and increase student knowledge of mental health, encouraging conversation around and understanding of the issue.
Several other states have implemented similar legislation. For example, New York requires mental health instruction for kindergarten through twelfth graders. Virginia requires it for ninth and tenth graders.
"Even if there's just a club like YANA in every school, that could be one step forward in supporting and educating students," said Eagle River High School Senior, Hendrikje Bodine.
Anyone finding themselves in need of someone to talk to, even anonymously, can call the Alaska Careline at (877) 266-HELP (4357). The line is open 24/7. You can also text '4help' to 839863 Tuesday through Saturday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.