Michigan teachers could be trained to identify signs of mental illness


Help may soon arrive for Michigan teachers who want to identify signs of student mental health problems before they escalate into seizures.

The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill requiring the Michigan Department of Education to develop standards for educators to recognize mental health needs and direct students to help.

“It’s so that our teachers can say, ‘See, little Johnny has a problem today.’ Maybe he needs to go see the social worker, go see the school counselor or talk to someone, ”said bill sponsor Sylvia Santana, a Democrat from Detroit. “It would be great for them to have these tools in their toolbox. “

The measure is now heading to the House, which passed a similar law in 2018. This bill is blocked in the Senate. Santana said the measure carries more weight now because the effects of the pandemic on mental health are at the forefront of educators’ minds.

Mental health needs have increased globally during the pandemic, as families face illness, death, unemployment, school closures, isolation and financial insecurity. One study suggests that cases of depression in the United States have tripled during the pandemic, and children’s hospitals are overrun with suicidal patients.

Training in the Senate bill would count toward the required training time for teachers, Santana said in a Senate interview this week. It would be accessible to all school staff, not just teachers, she said.

The Department of Education would coordinate development with the Department of Health and Human Services, community mental health providers, and state associations representing mental health professionals.

Parents should feel more comfortable sending their children to school knowing that teachers will be better trained to recognize the signs of mental health issues, Santana said.

The Education Department supports the bill, spokesman Bill DiSessa said.

The teachers too.

“Meeting the social and emotional needs of students is especially important after the pandemic,” said Doug Pratt, director of government affairs for the Michigan Education Association, which represents 120,000 educators. “Making sure educators have training in identifying problems is a good thing. “

However, he said, more mental health support staff would also help, he said.

Lawmakers seem to be trying to help. The $ 17.1 billion school budget they approved in June includes $ 240 million for additional psychologists, social workers, counselors and nurses.

The legislature has also taken other recent steps to support mental health in schools. A year ago, lawmakers passed a law requiring schools that issue ID cards to print a suicide prevention hotline on them.

“During this time, mental health has been a huge problem for our state, but more importantly it has been a problem for our schoolchildren,” especially those returning to school after distance learning, said Santana. in a speech on Wednesday.

She said her legislation will enable schools to better provide mental health services that will help ensure student success.

The enactment would have minimal fiscal impact, according to analysts of the bill.

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