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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Dr. Mariam Azin

 Can guns in the classroom prevent the next school shooting tragedy? The National Rifle Association has proposed arming teachers as a deterrent to the next Adam Lanza or T.J. Lane. While school districts will need to find the security solutions that they and their communities are comfortable with, I’d like to see our teachers, principals and staff armed with something potentially more powerful — the tools and information to identify students who are headed for a mental health crisis.

Every time a troubled young person commits a horrific act of violence, we try to understand what went wrong. The media is still looking into Adam Lanza’s upbringing, mental health status, and school records for clues to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. We’ve done the same for James Holmes, Jared Lee Laughner, and T.J. Lane. In every case, we find that there were warning signs, usually years in advance.

One thing we know: a mentally healthy, socially secure and well-balanced teen doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to kill a dozen people. Teachers, neighbors, peers and relatives always are able to look backwards and identify things that just “weren’t quite right.”

Mental health experts estimate that one in 10 teens has a mental health issue, and as many as 80% of them may be undiagnosed. Mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder often manifest between the ages of 14 and 24. It is no accident that many of the most publicized mass shootings have been carried out by young people (often men) in their teens or twenties.

What role can schools play in ensuring that teens who need mental health services are identified, referred and receive services? We may want to exempt schools from this responsibility and insist that they focus only on academics. But the reality is, they cannot focus on academics unless they have first established a safe environment for learning. Students who are in a mental health crisis are a disruption to the learning process in the best case, and a danger to themselves, their peers and school staff in the worst case.

 MONDAY: Identification of at-risk students is key.

Dr. Mariam Azin holds a doctorate in applied social psychology and has more than 20 years’ experience in educational research and evaluation. She has been the principal investigator on numerous large-scale evaluation efforts related to at-risk learners; curriculum and instruction; educational technology; and community programs spanning mental health, substance use and criminal justice. In 2012 she founded Mazin Educationwww.mazineducation.com  – an educational company focused on software solutions that help schools to better assess, identify and serve at-risk students.  

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