Issues of children and mental health in schools has received increased
exposure in recent years. Unfortunately, that has not led to increases in
mental health supports and services in schools. This recent article in the
Utica Observer Dispatch focuses greater attention on the needs of youth
with mental health needs in schools with a focus of attention on bills
related to educating teachers about Mental Health First Aid and the bill
related to teaching of mental health in schools.

Why would we not want our children to get as much education and support
about mental health as possible? It is in everyone’s best interest and the
dollars saved through prevention and early intervention would more than
offset any future cost.

We at MHANYS and our members are very passionate about this issue because
we see it every day in our daily interactions through our help line and
with our members that work directly in schools. We are spiraling into a
crisis and without legislative remedies and financial support, things will
only get even worse for our youth.

It is time to stand up and have our voices heard. You can help support us
in two ways. 1) Sign up with MHANYS Public Policy Director, John Richter
for specific information and calls to action for legislation at
jrichter@mhanys.org  2) Come and lend your support on
MHANYS Legislative Day on March 9th in Albany. For registration, go to
www.mhanys.org 

Mental health education in schools faces challenges

By Amy Neff Roth <aroth@uticaod.com>

Posted Feb. 14, 2016 at 6:00 AM (Utica Observer Dispatch)

A 6-year old boy almost got suspended from school because his behavior was
too disruptive. It turned out, though, that his problems sprang from his
fear of using the bathroom, a place where he had been badly abused at home,
said Graceann Guzski, director of community service at The House of the
Good Shepherd, which works with schools to help the foster children under
its supervision succeed.

Once teachers learned how to allay the boy’s fears, the boy did well, she
said.

“I really think the mental health piece affects the child throughout the
school day,” Guzski said. “So I think you need to have a good understanding
of where the student is at emotionally.”

Schools are on the front lines of dealing with students’ mental health
issues. Despite their best efforts, however, they sometimes fall short
because of a lack of funding.

Schools address mental health in a number of ways: hiring social workers,
working with mental health-related nonprofit agencies, hosting school-based
health centers that offer free counseling, including mental health in
health curriculums, and running support groups, etc.

“We want them to be able to graduate,” said Lori Eccleston, administrative
director of Curriculum and Instruction K-12 in the Utica City School
District. “If they’re held back by other issues, that can’t happen for
them.”

Two bills pending in the state Legislature would place new requirements on
schools to address their students’ mental health needs. One bill would
require all teachers to take mental health first aid training to learn how
to recognize potential signs of issues, how to reach out to students and
how to help students find help. The other would require all schools to
teach students something about mental health.

Eccleston sees the value of helping schools do more to help students with
mental health needs. But the state already has cut funding for mental
health services for students in recent years.

“(Some programs) are gone, so now it’s incumbent upon the school to try to
fill that gap,” she said. “And it’s difficult on the schools, but we do our
best.”

More state funding – particularly for any new mandates – would help a lot,
Eccleston said.

Others are worried about funding cuts, too.

“The dramatic impact of mental health is playing itself out so much more
pervasively in school than it used to,” said Glen Liebman, CEO of the
Mental Health Association in New York State, which backs both bills. “And
what’s our response – to be cutting clinicians and to take away services
when it should be just the opposite, that we need more services and
support.”

Making sure that all schools include at least some mental health curriculum
would help fight the stigma of mental illness, he said.

“If we could educate people at a younger age, they will have a better
understanding about mental health and (maybe) they themselves will seek
treatment or talk to somebody about it, or they won’t bully somebody who
might have mental health-related issues,” Liebman said.

Community Health & Behavioral Services of Upstate Cerebral Palsy has some
licensed clinical social workers working in the Utica schools, counseling
students and helping to find issues at home and at school that affect
students’ mental health.

More schools would like this and other agencies to provide this help, but
there simply isn’t enough staff to go around, said Associate Vice President
Gordon Dunham.

Although he hasn’t seen the specific curriculum for mental health first aid
training, the idea of teaching teachers how to help students sounds good,
he said.

“The teachers, I think, could definitely benefit from some onsite training
and for social workers to give them some information on what to look for,”
Dunham said. “And they’ve usually very open to that.”

Follow @OD_Roth on Twitter or call her at 792-5166.

 

Glenn Liebman, CEO
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.
194 Washington Avenue Suite 415
Albany, NY 12210

gliebman@mhanys.org

(518)434-0439 x 220

 

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