The legislation introduced by Senator Hamilton and Assemblymember Crespo
that would provide for mental health first aid for all teachers has been
garnering a great deal of publicity both in New York State and through the
rest of the nation. There was a recent blog post on the website
HealthZette, highlighting this legislation. **We are very pleased that
Senator Hamilton has confirmed that he will be speaking at our Mental
Health Matters Legislative Day on March 9th. Go to www.mhanys.org
to register.

Teachers, Here’s Your Next Assignment

Educators are tapped to help identify mental health warning signs

by Deirdre Reilly

Teachers have a lot on their plates — far more than simply teaching
assigned curriculum. They run after-school programs, prepare students for
mandatory state testing, and act as hallway, recess and cafeteria monitors.

Now they’re being asked to act as the first line of defense in student
mental health screenings. If two lawmakers in Brooklyn, New York, have
their way, teachers would need additional training hours so that they’re
able to better spot students with mental health issues.

Assemblyman Marcus Crespo and Senator Jesse Hamilton said teachers often
spend more time with students than their parents do, and are in a better
position to see potential mental health problems and start the process of
receiving treatment, according to the New York Daily News.

The numbers of children and adolescents with mental health issues are
rising.

Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, according to the Anxiety
and Depression Association of America. Anxiety and depression are both
treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and
60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment.
That’s according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health
Report.

“I think it’s a good idea,” a Boston-area mom of three said of the New York
legislation. “More information is better, right? There is one caveat,
however — parents must be the first to know of any potential problems, and
they are the decision-makers in any treatment that might be suggested.
Parents need to remain the authority figures and decision-makers in their
kids’ life.”

“We are very supportive of this training,” Glenn Liebman, executive
director of the Mental Health Association in New York State, told
LifeZette.

“We are true believers in collecting a wealth of information and resources
on behalf of students, which would now including the ability of teachers to
pick up on the signals of a student who may be heading into a crisis. The
legislation proposes eight additional hours of continuing education for
teachers, focusing on mental health.”

Los Angeles psychologist Shaelyn Pham is not thrilled with the idea, on the
other hand. “Having school teachers trained as a ‘first line of defense’ in
mental health screenings for students is an interesting idea on paper,” she
told LifeZette. “But the role of a teacher is to teach subject matter to
our children. It’s not their job to be a mental health clinician, even if
it is just performing a screening.”

Said Liebman, “The intent of the bill is not to make teachers clinicians,
just to have them be more cognizant of mental health symptoms in their
students. They can then make better referrals, which will ultimately lead
to better care.”

“If the supporting factor in this legislation is because teachers spend
more time with the children than their parents do, then there’s something
inherently wrong with this picture,” said Pham. “Instead of coming up with
an intervention, perhaps it may be worthwhile to look into some of the
factors that could be the cause of mental health issues in children. Could
it be possible that parents are not spending enough time with their
children?”

One Boston elementary school teacher laughed when she heard of the proposed
plan. “We’re already doing this,” she told LifeZette. “Every day we are
working with kids with a myriad of needs — from hunger to inability to
focus, stress and general lack of coping skills. I’m all for training, but
you could say we have on-the-job training, and we don’t ever hesitate to
make referrals.”

“Let teachers do what they’re good at: teach,” said Pham. “School
counselors and school psychologists could acquire additional skills in
mental health to be better advocates and provide better resources.
Ultimately, parents have to be responsible for the well-being of their kids
and do what is necessary to provide what is best for their children.”

She added, “We can’t negate this role to any other authorities in
children’s lives.”

Glenn Liebman, CEO
Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc.
gliebman@mhanys.org

 

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