Why schools say mental health is an important topic for students

KEESEVILLE, N.Y. (WCAX) It has been one year since schools across New York were required to add mental health to their curriculum. Our Kelly O'Brien looks at how it's going and why school officials see this as one of the most important topics to discuss with today's teens.

At the AuSable Valley Central School District, you'll find kindness in the hallways

"Students need to feel safe just in general," said Matthew Rogers, the director of school counseling.

School officials say students in the middle and high school have a better understanding of one another.

"They're seeing it all over and I think that it's important that they feel comfortable knowing what they're seeing and identifying what they're seeing and being able to talk about it," Rogers said.

There is a stigma that surrounds mental health, but under this roof, they talk about it openly and often.

"It can't continue to be that elephant in the room where it's not spoken about because mental health is a part of life, it's a part of everyday struggles for people," said Paul Savage, the superintendent of the AuSable Valley Central School District.

Lessons are taught in health class starting in the sixth grade, which some people feel may be too early.

"We're seeing mental health issues present themselves with students who are younger and younger," Rogers said.

They cover topics like depression, substance abuse and healthy eating, and topics that can be harder to talk about like suicide. Each year, the curriculum is changed to fit the students' needs. What are they seeing at the age? What might they be feeling?

"Schools are sometimes the only place that students feel comfortable talking about these kinds of things," Rogers said.

The district pairs up with behavioral services in the county to make sure the students get the help and attention they need.

"Our job is to educate all students, take care of all students and that includes students who are in crisis," Savage said.