Gov. Abbott pushes for focus on mental health in schools

Training teachers can help better keep children safe

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing schools to focus on mental health. He's calling upon state lawmakers to expand mental health screenings to help teachers and staff identify students with at-risk behaviors early. This all comes after the deadly shootings that took the lives of 10 people at Santa Fe High School.

It is all part of the governor's 40-point School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, which aims to highlight, research and create action on factors that may help better student safety in schools. In May, the governor asked state lawmakers to consider a $20 million budget expansion for mental health services in schools to hire more counselors, social workers and professionals and to help train teachers and staff on how they can identify students who may be struggling with mental illness and also children who may be at risk.

“I think that’s huge because it’s a health issue that’s not talked about a lot,” said Jaimie Pulido, the mother of a child in Katy Independent School District.

Houston ISD officials praised the governor's move to focus on mental health in schools.

READ: Gov. Abbott's action plan

"We really need to focus on the mental health of our kids. Our kids are under an extreme amount of pressure that a lot of us did not grow up under. There is so much technology. They're exposed to so much in the media. There is a pressure to do well. The stakes are high," said HISD board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

The governor highlighted the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral Project, or TWITR Project -- a program spearheaded by Texas Tech. The project trains staff to identify and intervene with students who display at-risk behaviors. It also trains staff to know signs of depression and anxiety. With parental permission, students identified would then get professional help in person or online.

READ: MORE: TWITR Project

Dr. Dawn Brown is a licensed double-boarded adolescent child psychiatrist who said the focus on mental health in schools is a necessity in this day and age.

“It’s time that we really start to make this particular change because the stats are just so disheartening,” Brown said.

Brown sees many students and clients from all over the nation online.

READ: 6 things you need to know about mental health

“If you consider telemedicine, it’s an open door for a community who otherwise would not be able to see a child psychiatrist—long waiting list, inaccurate providing of care by insurance, some are not insured. So when we’re talking about kids, it’s just as if I was there in their environment,” Brown said.

The Senate Select Committee report on violence in schools put out a similar recommendation this month. While health professionals agree that having a mental health illness does not make someone more violent, they say focusing on mental health in schools is a good things.

READ: Mental health treatment met with plenty of barriers

“My answer involves involving every single person that is involved in that child’s life," Brown said.

“They’ve got to be able to talk about their feelings. They’ve got to be able to express themselves," Pulido said.

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