Valley Schools’ Lack Of Mental Health Is A Dangerous Situation

EDITORIAL by Maria Lopez

  “Some problems are more serious than others,
but all children face challenges that can affect their learning and behavior. Mental health services provided by schools can help prevent or reduce the immediate and long term effects of children’s mental problems.”

A few days ago a good friend of mine Leticia Iten wrote on the importance of Proper Training in Mental Health issues for for Social Workers. This and the recent Aurora, Colorado shooting got me thinking of the lack of mental health services in the Imperial Valley school system,  as well as the lack of community interest in this particular topic. Stories have surfaced that the theater shooter, James Holmes, had been seen by a school Psychiatrist at the University of Colorado.
It is very likely that Holmes voiced his violent intentions to harm others to his psychiatrist.  It was later revealed that the psychiatrist had expressed concern to the crisis team about Holmes state of mind, however no action was taken and Holmes carried out his plan.
The number of children and young adults suffering from mental illness creates a public health crisis in this country and Imperial Valley is no exception.  Untreated mental health problems in children can cause negative and often times tragic long-term consequences. These consequences are; dropping out of high school, substance abuse, health problems, acts of violence and suicide.  School counselors, psychiatrists, social workers and teachers are not properly trained to conduct proper assessments for threats at schools.  My question is, could it be that we are not interested in this issue as a community, that we do not train and prepare our school authorities to provide the proper assessment and training interventions?
Degree programs only include one, or maybe two courses that focus on dealing with students with mental health disabilities and challenging behaviors. Schools play a major role in promoting the healthy emotional development of all children. Effective and integrated school based mental health services are the key ingredient in the current transformation of children’s mental health services in America, and schools should be the primary institution providing support. Schools can play a major role in identifying children who suffer from emotional, behavior, and mental health problems.
They can ensure that children receive proper assessments and proper interventions. Many children attend school with serious underlying problems such as learning disabilities, physical health problems, or have suffered trauma, social stress or problems at home.
Whatever the issue might be these are all major reasons for school professionals to be alert.  Because children spend most of their time in school, school based programs can provide opportunities to identify, refer and support children who might be at risk of acting out in a way that can be harmful to themselves or others. Most schools in Imperial Valley are not equipped with school psychologists or counselors who have the training to understand and work with these hard to reach students   Surgeon General estimates that one in five children and adolescents will experience a significant mental health problem during their primary school years.
Some problems are more serious than others, but all children face challenges that can affect their learning and behavior. Mental health services provided by schools can help prevent or reduce the immediate and long term effects of children’s mental problems.
Mental health services are an important resource that schools must provide to help students benefit from education.
Mental health services for children and youth must be accessible.  Schools are the ideal settings to provide mental health services to children and youth and their families.  Schools should be held accountable for the proficiency of all students, including the ones who suffer from mental illness. Obstacles such as the lack of access to quick, pre-screened and organized information that supports interventions that effectively address mental health problems is a serious issue the Imperial County.
Let us make an effort to have a better community by encouraging our local educators and mental health professionals to be prepared and sensitive to the mental health needs of our children so that we can prevent an incident like the recent Colorado tragedy.