All Points: A teacher's role in children's mental health

Posted Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A bill filed in Austin would give teachers voluntary mental health training so they can recognize issues in kids such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Are we asking schools and teachers to take on too much of the burden for societal challenges?

Questionable credentials

When a teacher discusses grades with a child's parents, they usually accept the information, because the teacher has credentials in education. When a school nurse suggests to the parents that their child should see a doctor about a health problem, they respectfully listen, because the nurse has credentials in the health field.

But when a teacher, an amateur at best after receiving limited mental health training, suspects that a student has a problem, what then? Questioning a student's mental health without impeccable credentials is risky for the teacher, student and parents, and heaven help the school if it's wrong.

The value of the knowledge gained from mental health training is to improve the ability of teachers to identify students who should be monitored more carefully, perhaps for the teacher's own safety. But procedures for disseminating their suspicions are necessary for the benefit of all involved.

-- Jim Hahn, Fort Worth

Parents' responsibility

A teacher's job is to teach, not to raise students or discipline students or recognize a student's disorders, such as bipolar behavior or schizophrenia.

Due to lack of quality parenting in far too many cases, teachers have to deal with these tasks daily, which takes valuable time from their real job. It's the parents' responsibility to raise their children, and that includes recognizing mental disorders, getting professional help and advising the teacher accordingly.

-- Jim Nelson, Fort Worth

Necessary effort

Training teachers to recognize mental health issues such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, etc., is a noble effort and necessary if we are willing and prepared to address the results of what they recognize.

Under state and federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, the teacher is obligated to refer the student for a full individualized evaluation to determine whether the student is qualified for special education and related services or reasonable accommodations if their educational performance is adversely affected. When such is the case, the student is entitled to a free appropriate public education in a placement with his or her peers.

I would suspect that teachers may discover a substantial number of students in need of special education who are not currently receiving educational services that meet their unique needs. This may be an unintended consequence but should not be a deterrent to enactment of the bill.

-- Jim Deatherage, Irving

Training is key

Mental illnesses and addictive disorders affect one in five children. This means that, in Texas, about 1 million public school students deal with these issues, which can lead to failure in school, criminal justice involvement and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Aside from parents, teachers are on the "front line" of identifying behavioral health issues because of the extensive time they spend with students. However, teachers often lack the tools that would help them effectively recognize when children are dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Without appropriate training, teachers often inadvertently reinforce or intensify the very behavior they are trying to reduce. Ensuring that teachers are equipped with the knowledge they need to recognize and appropriately respond to behavioral health problems is key to promoting early intervention for students, which can lead to more manageable classrooms and improve outcomes for children down the line.

-- Andrea Usanga, Missouri City,

director of policy and government relations, Mental Health America of Greater Houston

Teachers overburdened

The motivation behind the bill is admirable. However, teachers have enough to do.

The school nurse and school counselor have health records of all students, and that information is available to the teachers. When a teacher has a question about a child, he or she should check with the nurse or counselor.

What the bill should require is that all schools have a counselor-to-student ratio of 1 to 300, as recommended by the American School Counselors Association. Let the nurses and the counselors take care of the medical, social and emotional well-being of the students. But when school districts cut funds, counselors and nurses are often at the top of the list.

-- Dave Robinson, Fort Worth

Program available

The American Psychiatric Association has developed a program called "Typical or Troubled." The teacher/principal refers a troubled teen to the school district's licensed professional counselor, or LPC.

The counselor then does a confidential diagnosis of mental health issues and, if necessary, refers the student, after consultation with the parents, to an independent licensed professional counselor in the community to determine if treatment is needed.

The LPC is reimbursed by family insurance. Medicare/Medicaid coverage is available today, and with the Affordable Care Act, mental health treatment will be covered by all insurance.

This intervention program will eliminate continuing costs and problems for the teacher and school. The program works in 35 states, including four school districts in Texas. Teachers need only be trained to notice symptoms; they will not diagnose under this system.

-- Hoyt West, Fort Worth

Pay raises needed

Note that this is voluntary and those who want to save lives will participate. The worth of lifesavers is incalculable; they rank among our most revered heroes.

Attaining such skills is also invaluable outside the classroom and extends across society. I would personally vote to elevate our teachers to revered nurse status and give them more skills to save our most treasured possessions -- our children.

Teachers who feel they already have too much work will resent being pressured to volunteer. Increased responsibility usually warrants pay increases, which to our legislators is like tooth extraction. Parents of schoolchildren would be the first to approve increased pay for teacher lifesavers!

-- Grady Fuller,

Kennedale

No rose-colored glasses

Teachers most likely spend more time with these children than their own parents do. Teachers can observe children without rose-colored glasses and can recognize a problem that a parent may not pick up on.

I see no problem with giving teachers the extra training to spot possible problems. It is vital to get help to these kids while they are still very, very young.

-- Susan Winters, Fort Worth

Might save lives

Why has this training not been made available before? How would this training be a detriment to teachers?

This isn't an issue of whether the legislation would create more responsibility for teachers. Unfortunately, parents have long since created that monster.

I believe most teachers would welcome the opportunity to learn the warning signs. It might save lives, particularly those of their students and their own.

-- Candice Phillips, Fort Worth

Not teacher's job!

OK, so now the schools have to be counselors for our children, teach them how to act in public, provide food even on weekends and free education to illegals? It goes on and on, and we wonder why our children aren't learning much.

I've seen children in school who can't function in society. Nurses and aides have to provide for those poor children when they really need to be in a therapy program. This should not be the teacher's job!

-- Peggy Wetle, Granbury

The parent's duty

Oh, brother! If this bill passes, a teacher will not only be a teacher but also a diagnostician of sorts. Why can't a teacher just teach?

Shouldn't it be up to a child's doctor to seek a referral to a psychiatrist, based on a parent's concern? Children spend about 40 hours at school in any given week and far more with parents or guardians. Even if a child attends an after-school program, that child still spends more waking hours away from school.

A teacher is responsible for 20-plus students at one time; a parent maybe three or four children. It should be a parent's duty to be on the lookout for any mental health problems and take those concerns to the child's doctor.

-- Sara Mitchell, Fort Worth

Cutting corners?

Providing schoolteachers with voluntary mental health training so they can evaluate children with bipolar and schizophrenia problems is a bad piece of legislation. Period!

Since when is a teacher a pre-emptive strike to a certified psychiatrist or other qualified mental health physician who spent years studying in college and medical school? Are we cutting corners at the expense of our kids?

Children might be misdiagnosed by a teacher. Then what? I thought special education and other programs were created to tackle these mental problems. The proposed legislation makes about as much sense as setting a milk bucket under a bull!

-- Cynthia Ssekito, Fort Worth

Worthwhile training

I don't think it's asking too much, and it's voluntary!

My two brothers were school principals, and both their wives were teachers. Several more of my relatives were also teachers.

I have no doubt that all of them would have volunteered for the training! It is helpful for both the children and their parents.

-- George J. Anthony, Fort Worth

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