The recent shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school has many of us struggling with what needs to happen to prevent another tragedy like this from happening again. For a young person to even have such thoughts and feelings of rage, vengeance and mayhem is almost unimaginable. To have one actually follow through with these heinous acts is chilling. But assigning teachers the responsibility to bear arms on campus as a means of protection for students and themselves is not the answer to address campus gun violence.
The risks of “collateral damage” from armed teachers in a shootout could result in a more disastrous situation. While there is no single best solution to eliminate the risk of more tragedies, we believe a compelling answer can be found in the early detection and prevention of mental-health issues in our children.
In a nationwide “State of Mental Health in America — Youth Data” report for 2017, Mental Health America found that 11.25 percent of U.S. teens and pre-teens, ages 12-17, reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year. In Texas, 67.3 percent of young people with major depression did not receive any mental-health treatment. This means 6 out of 10 in this age group who have depression and are most at risk of suicidal thoughts, difficulty in school and difficulty in relationships with others do not get the treatment they need.
Now more than ever, it’s important we take the mental health of school-age children seriously and invest time, resources and awareness toward early intervention. We cannot afford to test an “O.K. Corral” theory against the wellbeing of our children and the educators who work to teach, protect and serve them. Fighting gunfire with gunfire is not the answer.
Parents should be aware our schools are at risk for this situation at any time. In the days since the Florida shooting, there have been at least five accounts of young people in the Houston area making threats against a school, outlining plans for on-campus violence and even bringing a gun on campus, resulting in high alerts and school lockdowns.
Instead of allotting funding to have teachers and other educators go through gun training, why not change the system: Make it mandatory and fiscally viable for all teachers, counselors and others who work in a Texas school district to learn to protect themselves and students by using an arsenal of early identification and prevention tools to identify and refer young people with mental-health concerns?
Significant strides have been made in some districts, but so much more needs to be done. Too many schools in our state are sorely under-resourced when it comes to behavioral health issues with some having no counselors at all and others only one counselor trained to recognize mental-health concerns in young people. Research shows that expanding school counseling services is associated with improvements in mental health and behavior — and, coincidentally, in student learning.
Children are living in troubled times and, unfortunately, teachers and schools bear the brunt of many of these concerns. As part of the solution in our region, Mental Health America of Greater Houston, through its Center for School Behavioral Health, works collaboratively with 26 public and charter school districts and more than 80 child-serving organizations, institutions of higher learning, community stakeholders, advocacy groups, students and parents. We develop and implement projects and policies that promote the wellbeing of school-age children, prevent the downward trajectory of untreated behavioral health concerns and appropriately address the needs of children with behavioral disorders. We also tend to needs of children who have experienced trauma.
By working together with concerned state officials, we can better support our public education system to ensure that the behavioral health and wellbeing of all students and educators are addressed through early detection and prevention programs.