Supporters of a bill that would require Texas teachers to be trained to recognize signs of mental health problems in their students say this law could save children’s lives. The legislation has cleared both houses of the Texas Legislature, and is awaiting Governor Perry’s signature.
If the Governor signs the bill, teachers would get training that might help them detect when a student is at risk for suicide, or is suffering from other emotional or mental health issues. This would allow teachers to reach out to students and their parents if they grow concerned that a student is exhibiting signs of deteriorating mental or emotional health.
Mental health training would become a requirement for a teacher to become certified in Texas.
Andrea Usanga is the Director of Policy and Government Relations for Mental Health America of Greater Houston. She’s among the mental health advocates who helped craft the bill, and she does believe it will save lives. She says teachers have the kind of access to students that might allow them — if they are properly trained — to recognize when something is going wrong with a child, behaviorally or emotionally. Usanga thinks this will lead to earlier interventions that could save children from unnecessary suffering or even suicide.
Opponents of the proposal argue it could cause teachers to intervene in private family matters, and it could lead to excessive use of medication. Usanga calls those arguments, “Bogus.” She says teachers could only go as far as informing parents of their concerns. Parents would take it from there. It would then be a parent’s choice whether to pursue further assessment of their child’s mental health. It would be between a parent and their child’s doctor to decide whether medication is an appropriate treatment. Usanga says training teachers to detect potential mental health problems would not “open up the floodgates” for the use of psychotropic (medication) in children.
The bill was authored by Texas Senator Bob Deuell (Greenville-R), and he has said about a million students in Texas suffer from illnesses and addictions that contribute to failing grades, misbehavior, crime and sometimes suicide. He also has said an understanding of mental health issues will help teachers manage their classrooms.
Houston Representative Garnet Colemen (D) was the House sponsor of this bill.