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Mental Health Curriculum to help Texas Kids

Can a mental health curriculum prevent violence in Texas schools? Two mental health experts share their thoughts on how a mental health curriculum can help prevent students being bullied while at school.

Texas A&M researchers studied how teaching and promoting acceptance and empathy can reduce experiences of violence and bullying among students with mental illnesses.

In the recent study Dr. Melissa DuPont-Reyes, assistant professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, researched the effectiveness of a mental health curriculum with the purpose to reduce peer violence among students with and without mental health problems. 

DuPont-Reyes tested the curriculum among 14 Texas schools

“DuPont-Reyes and colleagues conducted an important project demonstrating that an anti-stigma towards mental health problems curriculum was associated with improved behavioral outcomes in 6th grade youth,” said Dr. Eric Storch, professor and vice chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and head of psychology at Baylor College of Medicine.

When asked about whether mental health curriculum could be effective for kids of other ages, Dr Storch said while 6th grade is an optimal target and the curriculum was aligned with this age, there is strong evidence that younger children benefit from curricula that support social-emotional functioning, and understanding individual differences including mental health concerns. 

Dr. Storch believes in addition to those described, several other components may be helpful and suggested these: peer-based reinforcement systems for positive, stand-up behavior; setting the tone of the school where it is accepted to stand-up; developing strategies for standing up to bullies to reduce attention; reducing ‘hot spots’ where bullying is likely to occur; facilitate immediate, consistent, and firm intervention; have clear school systems for addressing bullying; among others.

Dr. Rachael Whitaker, clinical assistant professor of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences at University of Houston College of Education and director of the Master’s in Counseling program, says a mental health curriculum is absolutely needed the moment children set foot in schools.

In regards to the age in which teaching about acceptance and empathy Dr. Whitaker refers to the models that exist today in Texas schools. “We have models, both state ( Texas Comprehensive Guidance Model) and national (American School Counseling National Models), that support this type of curriculum and preventive measures.”

“We need to reframe the stigma of mental health prevention through resiliency, empathy training and reinforcing kindness in schools. Waiting until 6th grade leaves years of missed opportunity, information and learning. The real question here is why are we not supporting these existing models of prevention at the classroom level?,” Dr. Whitaker added.

Dr. Whitaker says counselors must be in the classrooms supporting academic curriculum alongside mental health curriculum, this would fundamentally begin healthy behaviors such as talking through feelings, nutrition, kindness initiatives, empathy training and progresses with age and developmental appropriateness.

Written by RA News staff.


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