A bill requiring mental health education for students, introduced a year ago in the Alaska Senate, has made its way to the Senate Finance Committee, the last stop before it gets into the Rules Committee for calendaring for the Senate floor, where it will be debated and voted on.
SB 80 would amend the existing health education curriculum statute to include mental health curriculum in K-12 health classrooms.
Under the provisions of the new law, the State Board of Education and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development would be required to develop the guidelines for mental health curricula in Alaska schools, and then the schools would be required to teach to the standards.
Those guidelines would be done in consultation with the National Council for Behavioral Health, Providence Health and Services Alaska, Southcentral Foundation, Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, Inc., North Star Behavioral Health System, and the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness Alaska. The standards will be developed in consultation with counselors, educators, students, administrators, and other mental health organizations. The bill makes no mention of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the state’s leading mental health organization.
The bill’s purpose, says bill sponsor Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, is to “adequately educate students on vital information pertaining to mental health symptoms, resources, and treatment,” particularly in this era of what is perceived to be a mental health crisis among youth in the state.
“Currently, the health curriculum guidelines include prevention and treatment of diseases; learning about ‘good’ health practices including diet, exercise, and personal hygiene; and ‘bad’ health habits such as substance abuse, alcoholism, and patterns of physical abuse. But the guidelines do not address mental health,” according to Gray-Jackson.
After standards have been developed, the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development and Department of Education would be responsible for implementation throughout the Alaska school system. As with existing health education curriculum, the DEED, the DHSS, and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault will provide technical assistance to school districts in the development of personal safety curricula. An existing school health education specialist position will assist in coordinating the program statewide.
“The State has a responsibility to treat the current mental health crisis in Alaska as a serious public health issue,” Gray-Jackson said in her explanation of the bill. “By creating mental health education standards and encouraging schools to teach a mental health curriculum, SB80 aims to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and increase students’ knowledge of mental health, encouraging conversation around and understanding of the issue.”
Read a letter from a list of left-leaning organizations that support this bill.