AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A proposal in the Texas Legislature aims to provide more mental health education for public school students in the state.
The legislation authored by State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, would encourage school board trustees in districts across the state to appoint a health care advisory council to make recommendations for those districts.
Thierry’s proposals (House Bills 198 and 204) would also adjust the education code to include mental health alongside physical well-being for health care program goals. “The key component is that the curriculum will recognize the importance and the correlation between physical health and mental health. I think both are key components of our overall well-being.”
“It’s been about 60 years since we first created, when we mandated in the legislature that we have health education as a requirement of school curriculum,” Thierry said. “So we know that times have changed a lot in the past 60 years, so simply adding mental health as a component of health education I believe will — although it’s a small change — I believe it will be a monumental positive lasting affect for thousands of kids in Texas.”
The proposal has drawn support from child-minded groups such as Texans Care for Children and the state’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Texas).
“Schools are settings that have the most contact with children at risk of having mental health issues and are the most accessible for receiving health services,” Alissa Sughrue of NAMI Texas told lawmakers on Tuesday.
“Students and their families often don’t learn about mental health until a serious issue has already emerged.”
The legislation faces opposition from the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, an organization established by the Church of Scientology.
“It’s not clear why this legislation is needed,” the group’s executive director Lee Spiller said, citing existing partnerships between Central Texas schools and mental health providers.
“We have seen an increase in the presence of cyberbullying due to the prevalence of social media and that’s exactly what this little one solution is designed to tackle,” Thierry explained. “Students don’t have coping mechanisms to effectively deal with the onslaught of the influence of the cyberbullying, as well as a rise in school violence. So by teaching them how to recognize the signs of when they may be in crisis, maybe from the initial onset of depression, we can help get them the help they need at an earlier time.”
The bill was presented in the House Public Education committee, where it needs to be approved in order to reach the full House.