Under California law, all teachers are “mandatory reporters.”
That means any signs of child abuse or neglect – from physical marks likes bruises to less obvious red flags like social withdrawal – are a teacher’s cue to refer students to counselors or law enforcement intervention.
Donnie Everett, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District’s director of socio-emotional health, thinks there’s nothing wrong with this current process – but that it can be improved.
Everett says that while teachers are mandatory reporters, they are not necessarily trained to have conversations with students who are struggling with serious mental health issues like suicidal ideation or intense anxiety. “People forget what it’s like to be at this stage in life,” Everett says. He adds kids ages 12-18 are still developing, and are especially vulnerable to experiencing mental illness.
Another aspect that Everett thinks can be improved: increasing the number of people – adults and youth alike – students can trust. That’s why for the first time, MPUSD’s Youth Mental Health First Aid Training will be offered to people outside of MPUSD staff this fall.
The trainings are also offered in Spanish by Monterey County Office of Education. A typical training is an eight-hour crash course going over behaviors to look out for, how to have a conversation with someone facing emotional breakdown, and role-playing scenarios. They’re free to attend.
By the end of it, participants should know how to mitigate the potential harm that could come from a mental illness until professional help has arrived. “Just as in CPR, you’re helping until the medics come in,” Everett says.
He’s hoping for an added benefit: “These trainings break down barriers and stigmas around mental illness.”
The first public training will be in the fall quarter. (Four more are scheduled for MPUSD staff.) Four to five trainings annually for MPUSD staff over the last three years have been at or near the 30-person capacity.