New York state education officials on Thursday released new guidance and resources to help schools develop policies for addressing and identifying students who are in a mental health crisis and help local school officials intervene effectively. 

The guidance proposed by the state Education Department comes after nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting education and the school-day schedule for many students and teachers. Mental health experts have called pandemic-related stress for kids and adolescents a mental health emergency in the country. 

“All students need to know they are not alone and there are caring, compassionate people in their schools who can help them,” Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. said. “Teachers and school staff who are with students every day serve an essential role in recognizing when students are struggling. Schools should use these materials to increase mental health resources and put suicide prevention policies in place. We must get this right for our students and their families.”

Mental health issues, made worse by the public health crisis, have led to severe outcomes for some children. Dying by suicide has been found to be the second-leading cause of death amoung people age 10 to 24 in the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association. 

“Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students is a fundamental role of schools that is even more important now when so many young people experienced devastating loss, isolation, and trauma during the pandemic,” Commissioner Betty Rosa said. “Schools should nurture the opportunity for students to develop caring relationships with teachers and school staff. It is critical school personnel have the tools to identify and act when a student is in psychological pain. We will continue to work with our partners at the Office of Mental Health to ensure our schools have these life-saving resources.”

The guidance includes help in developing learning tools for integrating social emotional learning, suicide prevention and mental health education in schools.