The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017. The suicide rate has climbed 33 percent in the last two decades and lowered U.S. life expectancy. Suicide is now considered a public health emergency; it is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Additionally, a Vanderbilt University study reported that between 2007 and 2014 suicides among preteens have doubled in number, while hospital admissions for students between 5-17 years of age with suicidal thoughts increased.

Experts state that an overwhelming majority of our youth who commit suicide, over 90 percent, suffer from depression or other diagnosable forms of mental illness. Students who have some kind of mental illness are less likely to succeed in school as well.

With such ominous statistics staring us in the face, it is high time we have straight talk with our children about mental health.

New York and Virginia have become the first states to mandate that schools include mental health education in their curriculums. It is a step in the right direction, and other states should follow suit.

It’s never too early to learn, and these states have rightly identified that this knowledge is best absorbed when kids are young. Learning about mental health will increase students’ ability to recognize signs in themselves and others and get help in time.

The New York legislation was enacted in 2018 though it was written and presented as early as 2015. It mandates that mental health will be part of the overall K-12 health curriculum.

Virginia’s law, enacted in fall, mandates mental health education for the first two years of high school. Even though it does not address younger children, it is a still touching the crucial time in the lives of teenagers.

According to Mental Health America, 11 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in 2017. These new education requirements will open up a dialogue about mental health and hopefully combat the stigma around the topic.

In both states, the boards of education will work in tandem with mental health experts to incorporate core concepts into the mental health curriculum. The updated education standards will show students how mental health is related to substance abuse and other negative coping behaviors.

It is important to know and recognize the multiple dimensions of health, which include not just mental health but its relation to physical well-being.

Schools like Oceanside Middle School in New York have already incorporated this strategy in the hope of erasing the stigma associated with mental illness. Its way of doing so, through a schoolwide read-aloud program, is very innovative.

The school is using its state grant to select and include books that strike the right balance between education, awareness and student safety. Stories can help students absorb the concepts, recognize signs and know who to turn to when they or their friends need help.