LANSING — Earlier today, state Rep. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) testified in front of the House Health Policy in favor of her bill, House Bill 5524, legislation that resulted from the recommendations of the C.A.R.E.S. Task Force. HB 5524 requires the Michigan Department of Education, in coordination with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, to develop or adopt a professional development course for teachers on mental health first aid.

“Nearly 50 percent of students age 14 and older with a mental illness will drop out of high school.  Additionally, 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental illness,” Santana said. “If we could have identified these mental health issues sooner and provided assistance to our young people, more of them would have been able to graduate high school, go on to attend higher education, serve in the military or received additional skill training and begin promising careers. Instead, we’re losing too many of our young people to self-medication or the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The course would include identifying potential risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis, eating disorders and self-harm. The legislation would also require both departments to develop strategies for helping an individual experiencing a mental health crisis, assessing risk, listening respectfully, supporting the individual and identifying professional help and other resources for the individual. 

“We have to provide the tools our teachers need to assist them in identifying mental health issues early, offering initial assistance and then ensuring the student has access to resources and professional guidance,” Santana commented. “Establishing a best practices course and highlighting the course as the state standard will provide our teachers with the tools to assist our students no matter what challenges they’re facing.”