By Tim Bradner
Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) has pre-filed legislation that expands existing health education requirements to include mental health curriculum in all K-12 health classrooms. The goal is to make sure students are adequately educated on vital information about mental health symptoms, resources, and treatment.
House Bill 181 requires the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development and the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development to develop guidelines for mental health instruction in consultation with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services as well as representatives of national and state mental health organizations.
Claman said the standards will be developed with information from counselors, educators, students, administrators, and other mental health organizations to form a comprehensive course for students.
The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development and the state’s education department would be responsible for implementation of the new curriculum. As with existing health education curriculum, the education and health depRTMETS and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault will provide technical assistance to school districts developing personal safety curricula. An existing school health education specialist position will help coordinate the program statewide.
“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,” 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. The bill will be formally introduced and receive committee assignments when the Legislature reconvenes on January 21. For more information, please contact Lizzie Kubitz in Rep. Claman’s office at (907) 465-4904.
As he was developing this proposal, Claman met with students to discuss their ideas on ways we could improve mental health outcomes.
Natalie Fraser, West Anchorage High School, said “Not a day at school goes by that I don’t hear a conversation about mental health. In the hallways, at lunch, between bells, we’re talking about our depression and anxiety and stress. Why aren’t we talking about it in classrooms?”