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Mental health literacy assembly at Columbia High SchoolColumbia High School students are learning more than reading, writing and arithmetic these days. The subject of mental health, which impacts so many children in society, is being addressed in a variety of ways at school.

On July 1, New York became the first state in the United States to require all schools to incorporate mental health education into the curriculum. The law is meant to address an epidemic in which nearly one in five children living in the U.S. display symptoms of a mental health disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Columbia students participated in an assembly on Wednesday that addressed mental health literacy.

Tina Yun Lee speaking at Columbia High School

Tina Yun Lee speaking at Columbia High School.

Tina Yun Lee from the National Alliance on Mental Illness led the engaging presentation and taught students about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and what students can do if they recognize those signs in themselves or a friend.

A local college student, Allie Quinn, shared her personal story as part of the presentation. She described her experience with the mental illness Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and severe panic attacks.

“I want to share my story with you all today to show that mental illness can happen to anyone,” Ms. Quinn said. “I was happy, educated and had never touched drugs or alcohol and I was still one of the 25 percent of people who will experience a mental health condition.”

She also talked about the treatment she received and how it, along with support from family, aided her recovery.

“Seeking help doesn’t mean someone is weak, weird or crazy,” she said. “It actually means they’re being proactive about their life. If I hadn’t gotten treatment, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Today’s assembly was just one piece of a larger plan to address social-emotional wellness in students across the East Greenbush Central School District. The district’s K-12 Health Education program is currently under review, a Rensselaer County Health Counselor works with students and staff at Columbia High School and Goff Middle School and organizations such as Rensselaer County Mental Health Services, the Mental Health Association in New York State and other community resources have been utilized.

The school district’s efforts are not only focusing on students. Staff have participated in trainings held by Questar III BOCES and all teachers in the district will participate in professional development throughout the school year beginning on October 19. Sessions include trauma-informed classrooms, improving relationships with students, building student resilience, strategies for overcoming learning and behavioral challenges and practicing self-care to manage stress and prevent burnout.

“It’s important that we normalize mental health concerns within our schools among students and faculty,” said East Greenbush Central School District Superintendent Jeff Simons. “Students need to know that they are not alone in their experiences and that they can find trust, support and help among our school staff.”