Is That Kid Normal? Teachers Trained to Notice When Students May Not Be; Training Sponsored by Drug Companies

By Susan Jones | January 29, 2013 | 6:07am EST

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth-largest school district, says it will start training hundreds of school psychologists, guidance counselors, teachers and school staffers to identify possible mental health problems in junior- and high-school students. (AP File Photo)

( - If parents can't or won't admit their child has a mental problem, a teacher with rudimentary training may spot the warning signs for them.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the nation's fourth-largest school district, says it will start training hundreds of school psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors, teachers and school staffers to identify possible mental health problems in junior- and high-school students.

"Teachers, coaches and other school personnel who interact with students every day, are in an excellent position to notice when students may be showing signs of mental health problems," says the American Psychiatric Foundation, the philanthropic and educational arm of the American Psychiatric Association.

The American Psychiatric Foundation (APF) offers schools a training program called "Typical or Troubled." It says the trademarked program – sponsored by three pharmaceutical companies that make psychotropic drugs -- has been used in 420 schools nationwide, the latest being the Miami-Dade system, as The Miami Herald reported on Monday.

“If we are going to seriously address the problem of mental illness, it will take the whole community linking hands and focusing on the teen years, when so many mental disorders first emerge," said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho in a news release announcing the training. "The 'Typical or Troubled?' program is the best way we know of to do that.”

As part of the training, school officials will get tips on how to approach parents whose child may need professional help.

“Parents can miss the signs of early mental illness during the teenage years, when young people can be moody or rebellious," said Paul T. Burke, APF's executive director. "How do you tell when a teenager’s behavior is cause for concern? This program, by educating parents, helps inoculate them against denial when their child is truly troubled, and gives them strategies for how to respond.”

Nationwide, says APF, approximately 15 million children between the ages of 9 and 17 have diagnosable psychiatric disorders, with about 90 percent of those children exhibiting early warning signs by age 15.  More than 60 percent of young people with mental health disorders are not getting adequate treatment, the APF says.

But with schools acting as a mental health referral service, calls for treatment may increase. And starting in 2014, Obamacare requires most health care plans to cover “essential benefits,” including mental health services.

APF says its "Typical or Troubled" program is sponsored by drug-makers Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and Shire, and it teaches that effective treatments for mental problems include therapy and medication or a combination of both.

Signs of trouble

Even "typical" teens may have mood swings, distressing thoughts, anxiety, and impulsive behavior, the experts say. APF’s training program is intended to help school personnel understand the warning signs that indicate something more serious than growing pains.

Mental health disorders that can affect teenagers include depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and eating disorders.

APF lists the following as some of the warning signs that may require intervention:

-- Marked change in school performance, sleeping or eating habits

-- Aggressive or non-aggressive consistent violation of the rights of others-- Opposition to authority, truancy, thefts, or vandalism

-- Abuse of alcohol or drugs

-- Self-injury or self-destructive behavior

-- Sexual acting out

-- Threats to run away

-- Frequent outbursts of anger, aggression

-- Strange thoughts and feelings and unusual behaviors

-- Inability to cope with problems and daily activities

Judge Steven Leifman, who sits on the APF board of directors, says school is the "perfect place to bring students, parents, teachers and other school personnel together and ultimately to connect troubled youth to the help they need.”

The Miami-Dade school system says the training of school guidance personnel will begin in late February, after which the counselors will share with teachers and other school staffers what they've learned.

The school system also plans to hold parent education workshops and a public awareness campaign.

Colleen Reilly, director of "Typical or Troubled?“ told The Miami Herald that after what happened in Newtown, "This needs to be a national curriculum and a part of every school.”

The newspaper quoted Reilly as saying the goal of the program is not to have teachers diagnosing students: "We're asking them to learn about and notice the warning signs, and if they see a problem to refer them to someone who has a better grasp.”

And what about normal children who are flagged as "troubled?" Judge Leifman told The Miami Herald, "The worst that would happen is they’ll get evaluated.”

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