The Failing First Line of Defense

This is a tragedy and lost opportunity. We pay dearly when it’s not properly addressed. I’ve been thinking a lot of about this lately, especially when I recently spoke with the superintendent in our school district. I learned teachers and school counsellors don’t have enough training to recognize mental health problems in children. I was shocked! I feel Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is easy to understand and should urgently be taught to everyone who interacts with our children such as teachers, coaches, sports clubs, and counsellors to name a few. A child’s executive functioning and cognitive development are affected when they have mental health problems or the more ACEs they experience. Seems to me this is an injustice against our children and society, and doesn’t help anyone including our country! Click here or on the pdf file to learn more. I strongly recommend everyone read this excellent article because change is desperately needed and one more day for it to happen is too long.


A girl writes on a chalk board during the opening of the elementary school year in the old center of Managua


Teachers are often the first adults students turn to when struggling with mental health, but educators are not adequately trained to address the crises


As much as I adore reading student work, I still get a little nervous about what I’ll find there. Among the stories of what my teenage students did last summer and what they want to be when they grow up are the more emotionally loaded accounts: firsts (periods, kisses, or failures), transitions (moves, their parents’ divorces, or custody disputes), and departures (dropouts, graduations, or suicide attempts).

Over the years, my students have entrusted me with their most harrowing moments: psychotic hallucinations, sexual molestation, physical abuse, substance abuse, HIV exposures, and all sorts of self-injurious behavior ranging from cutting to starvation to trichotillomania. When students write about delicate and dangerous experiences, there are decisions to be made and judgments to be called. And yet, for much of my career, I have been horribly unprepared and have failed to secure the services my students needed as a result.

Teachers are often the first person children turn to when they are in crisis, and yet they are, as a profession, woefully unprepared to identify students’ mental-health issues and connect them with the services they need—even when those services are provided by schools. Aside from the obligatory professional-development session on mandatory reporting laws for child abuse and neglect we have to attend during new faculty orientation, teachers receive little or no education in evidence-based mental-health interventions. According to Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Most teachers are not trained about mental health in their formal education and degree programs, and yet an unidentified mental-health condition often interferes with a student’s ability to learn and reach their full academic potential.”



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