Study: teachers’ mental health training is key for safety

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Teachers who are trained to detect and react to signs of mental illness will be better equipped to avoid a classroom crisis, according to a state study.

The Oklahoma Commission on School Safety released its legislative recommendations Tuesday, one of which asks lawmakers to create voluntary mental illness training for teachers.

Gun control has dominated the headlines ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary murders in Newtown, Connecticut, last year.

But similar to screening students for physical illnesses, one doctor says identifying behavioral health illness is just as important.

"There's nothing that we can do to prevent one hundred percent of these cases," Dr. Willis Holloway Jr., said, a psychiatrist with a specialty in child psychiatry. "This is about probability and risk and we try to manage probability."

Dr. Holloway fully supports the mental health teacher training recommendation.

It's called the Mental Health First Aid Training Pilot Program.

Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, Chairman of the Commission, said "first aid" refers to dealing with an immediate crisis, such as a student who pulls out a weapon in school.

He said the sooner a mental or addictive disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for everyone.

"Particularly when you're bullied and you have a mental, emotional and behavioral issue already," Lamb said. "You put that mixture together, it's potentially very, very dangerous."

The program would allow teachers to voluntarily receive training for mental health crisis intervention.

"When you have some of these really horrific situations that occur, those are usually individuals who feel isolated," Dr. Holloway said.

It's critical a student knows mental health services are available at school, a place Dr. Holloway said is the place that is essentially a "social training ground" in our culture.

He believes school attacks may be more likely to happen when a student feels there's no support.

"Then that might lend itself to believing that the culture at large probably is unconcerned about your problems."

Lamb said the information in the Oklahoma Commission on School Safety's report will be used in four Senate bills that are being drafted at the Capitol; SB 256, SB 257, SB 258 and SB 259.

The legislative deadline is next week.

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