Other Voices

Schools are the place to begin addressing mental health issues

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, is shepherding mental health bills through the Texas House.
State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, is shepherding mental health bills through the Texas House. AP

One in five schoolchildren lives with a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder.

That means four students in a class of 20 struggle with the same issues as many adults. Depression. Anxiety. Substance abuse.

Most don’t get the help they need.

Many schools lack the resources to assist; others have more cases than they can handle.

Teachers have a full plate, parents assume it’s “just a phase,” and students don’t seek help for fear of the stigma associated with mental health challenges.

Little has been said about this silent epidemic that robs our children of the opportunity to learn. Now some legislators are taking note and suggesting a comprehensive approach to mental health and education.

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, continues to push his mental health advocacy initiatives in the current legislative session.

House Bill 11 addresses mental health education in public schools, promoting a more emotionally inclusive atmosphere for students, better tools for counseling and training, classes on mental health and substance abuse, and the use of positive behavioral interventions.

It’s a great addition to the conversation on mental health reform and public education. Let’s hope the dialog continues.

House Bill 305/Senate Bill 180 by Rep. Ina Minjarez and Sen. José Menéndez, respectively (both D-San Antonio), strengthen and add to laws regarding bullying and cyberbullying.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, children who are bullied — and those who bully others — face elevated risk of depression, self-harming behavior and suicide.

While the latter proposed legislation does not address the underlying cause of bullying or provide prevention, it is another voice that needs to be heard.

Eliminating the stereotypes associated with mental health disorders, plus timely detection and intervention, must be top priorities for the well-being of our children and the success of our educational system.

Mental health problems often reveal themselves early in life, and the sooner they’re treated, the better the outcomes.

Equipping schools with the resources to identify early warning signs and then linking children with effective professional services and supports — within the schoolhouse as well as the larger community — is just one element of the solution. Parents also have a responsibility.

Parents know their children best and should watch for changes in mood and behavior, difficulty concentrating, unexplained weight loss, self-inflicted injuries and academic failure.

Mental health disorders are treatable, and there’s no shame in seeking help.

We’ve made strides in mental health reform over the last half-century, but the road is long.

Legislators and educators joining mental health professionals in the conversation give hope that our children will have a brighter, happier tomorrow.

Heather Hahn is an assistant professor of counseling at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth and a licensed professional counselor-supervisor trained to work with individuals, families and groups in treating mental, behavioral and emotional problems and disorders.