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Calls Grow for More Mental-Health Support in MN Schools

In Minnesota, only a some teachers are required to receive suicide-prevention training. But a bill in the Legislature would expand that requirement to all teachers. (Adobe Stock)
In Minnesota, only a some teachers are required to receive suicide-prevention training. But a bill in the Legislature would expand that requirement to all teachers. (Adobe Stock)
March 10, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota lawmakers, educators and industry experts are demanding a more robust support system for students struggling with mental health issues. A proposed bill in the state Legislature would expand the number of teachers who receive suicide-prevention training when they need to renew their licenses.

Currently, that requirement only applies to more experienced teachers. Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany said actions like this could help address the increasing levels of stress students deal with these days.

"Twenty five years ago, it was hard enough being a kid," Podany said. "Now, we have kids dealing with more stressers than ever and everything is coming at them from all angles - whether it's on the phone, whether it's the youth around them, whether it's the world we live in."

He said in his community, six students have taken their lives this school year.

In addition to the training bill, another measure would create a new position in the state education department to provide mental-health guidance to districts. Both bills are scheduled to receive a committee hearing Tuesday evening.

Hopkins High School junior Liv Steen said when she was a freshman, two fellow students took their own lives within two weeks of each other. She said there wasn't enough outreach to help the student body cope with that difficult situation.

"Our needs for the school, for the grief that the entire school was experiencing, was not met," Steen said.

According to the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, the percentage of 11th-grade female students who reported having long-term mental health, behavioral or emotional problems more than doubled from 2013. In that same survey, nearly 1 in 10 11th-graders reported attempting suicide.

Mental-health experts say the issue is especially troubling for Native American students and LGBTQ students.

Sue Abderholden is executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She said there should no longer be confusion among school districts on how to engage with students when there's a crisis. She said having a point person in the state education department will take away that confusion.

"Districts will know who to call to obtain information about school-linked mental health, about the best trainings on mental illnesses or the best practices about responding to a suicide in their school," Abderholden said.

As advocates push for changes in the Legislature, they say students need to be aware of resources that can help deal with a mental-health crisis. In Minnesota, they can seek assistance through the Crisis Text Line by texting "MN" to 741741.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN