Cook: A proactive approach to mental health in schools

Friday, February 28, 2020

The health of our students reaches far beyond their physical wellness. We know some children struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, behavioral or emotional disorders. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 15% of Indiana students between ages 12 and 17 years old reported having at least one major depressive episode during the 2015-2016 school year, compared to the national average of 13%. If these issues are not addressed, they could have a significant impacts on a child’s education, health and safety. Mental health is the core of a student’s wellbeing, and we must ensure local schools are equipped with the proper resources on behalf of their students.

This legislative session, I sponsored Senate Bill 246 that would require schools to contract with mental health providers in order to apply for grants from the Indiana Secured School Safety Fund. Money from this fund can be used to help pay for school-based mental health services among other programs relating to school safety. Under this bill, students would have improved access to mental and behavioral health services.

This proposed legislation builds on a law I sponsored last year creating a process for teachers and administrators to communicate with a student’s parent or guardian about aberrant or abnormal behavior. With the guardian’s consent, the school and family can work together and develop a plan to help the child receive needed services. Parents are involved in the decision-making process from the beginning through the end. If at any point they feel the services offered to their child are not appropriate or no longer needed, they can choose to not move forward.

This models a natural referral process schools already use to communicate problems to parents. From having difficulty paying attention in the classroom, to contemplating suicide or violence, our students face tough mental health challenges and more must be done to help.

After spending several years in the classroom, I have seen the impact mental health has on students and their academic performance. Making this professional help more readily available in our education system is a natural fit, because most children spend a majority of their day at school. This proposed legislation furthers Indiana’s commitment to ensuring schools have the resources they need to set students up for success.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

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