Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Issues

Earlier this month, I represented ODE at the first annual Pacifica Family Summit at Ingrid B. Lacey Middle School. The day featured workshops led by youth as well as adults on topics such as peer mentoring, meaningful youth engagement, substance use, and digital storytelling. It was a great start of a longer conversation among students, families, teachers, and school staff about mental health.

On one youth-led panel I attended on coping with stress, anxiety and special needs, a member of the school’s staff said that teachers and coaches often serve on the front line of mental health disorders: “Your child might not open up to you, but she’ll open up to me.” Which made me wonder, why don’t teachers receive more training on mental health issues, especially among adolescents?

An article on KQED News asks the same question. Author Katrina Schwartz notes that teachers have a lot of balls to juggle: “content standards, the social and emotional needs of students, behavior, and often trauma.” Citing an article originally published in The Atlantic, Schwartz also notes that more and more schools are using such evidence-based mental health programs as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Trauma-Sensitive Schools. But without basic mental health training, “it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior.”

The Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) offers a free, interactive course for schools in San Mateo County called Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). This training is geared towards adults who work with youth, including classroom teachers, school site administrators, school office personnel, coaches, bus drivers, afterschool providers, teacher’s aides, school health aides, yard duty staff, crossing guards, parents, faith community members, and the general community. The course empowers adults to identify and respond to a young person (aged 12-24) who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis/challenge or emotional distress. With YMHFA’s 5-step Action Plan, school personnel will be better equipped to identify signs, symptoms, and risk factors for mental health challenges that commonly affect our young people. Mental health literacy creates a safer, supportive, and inclusive school community by reducing stigma and increasing access to and knowledge about appropriate mental health services. YMHFA has made me a better listener and has encouraged me to bring more awareness to the stigma of mental health in our communities.  To date, San Mateo County has trained 1,538 individuals in Youth Mental Health First Aid.

To learn more about the program or to become a YMHFAider, contact Natalie Andrade at nandrade@smcgov.org or 650-372-8548. If you prefer to watch a video about our MHFA program, click here.

Co-authors: Hillary Chu and Natalie Andrade