To the Editor:
Laura C. Murray’s Commentary (“Mental Health Is Part of the School Safety Equation,” Jan. 30, 2013) correctly highlights the importance of school mental-health services to school safety. Teachers do indeed play a critical role in creating a safe, welcoming environment where students can thrive, and they are essential to providing the first-tier wellness-promotion and prevention strategies Ms. Murray outlines.
However, while probably not Ms. Murray’s intention, the implication is that teachers can become synonymous with school mental-health services. This would be unrealistic and ineffective, and it warrants clarification.
School mental-health services should be provided by trained school mental-health professionals: school psychologists, counselors, and social workers.
Not only do these professionals already have the skills to provide evaluations, counseling, threat assessment, and case management, they can also provide ongoing teacher training and consultation across the spectrum of mental-health issues.
They are trained to identify and “spearhead” the mental-health programs most appropriate for their particular school community. And they are the essential bridge between the tiers of supports from wellness promotion to intensive interventions that require collaboration with private clinicians.
Better teacher training on social-emotional development and the signs and symptoms of children struggling with mental-health problems is long overdue, but the math teacher can never assess a student for depression or recommend interventions.
The whole school system Ms. Murray mentions must provide both teachers and students access to a school mental-health professional who can work with individuals over time and integrate interventions with the teaching and learning process. In many districts, this will require increasing these personnel.
Given the urgency of the issues involved, our national dialogue needs to be as accurate and succinct as possible. Our focus needs to be on effective, sustainable approaches that enable teachers, administrators, and school mental-health professionals to work together to support the mental wellness, safety, and successful learning of our students.
National Association of School Psychologists
A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2013 edition of Education Week as Trained Experts Needed For Mental-Health Services