Governor Greg Abbott plans to expand student mental health services

ECTOR COUNTY, TX (KWES) - Governor Greg Abbott recently came out with a School and Firearm Safety Action plan in response to the Santa Fe school shooting. The plan aims to make schools harder for potential shooters to attack. Abbott suggested adding more marshals to schools and having an active shooter alarm system.

Abbott also has another plan in mind and wants more schools to shift their focus on mental health.

"We need to be on the alert that mental health problems is increasing in our society," said Director of School Nursing Laura Mathew. "They're not only increasing with adults, but children and teenagers."

The plan would hire more counselors to focus on student mental health and less on college applications. It would also expand training programs for district employees, where teachers and staff will be able to identify a student with a mental illness. ECISD is on board with the plan and they have been doing mental health trainings this past year.

"I do believe it's a problem in our area, I do believe we have to address the mental health issue so I do think it's a good idea," said Executive Director of Guidance and Counseling Nancy Vanley. "I do think additional staff will be beneficial."

Abbott's plan also includes connecting the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center with schools across the state where a psychiatrist can video chat with a student in private. They can do an evaluation and even prescribe medication, but with parental permission.

ECISD has already had this program in operation for the past two years and so far, it's been a success. Now, psychiatrists are meeting double the amount of ECISD students compared to the year before.

"The child needs talk therapy, they also need counseling so it's good to have both," said Mathew. "We're just trying to have another resource before they become suicidal, before they harm someone or harm themselves, so that's what they're trying to do is give them another option."

Students are screened for depression, loneliness, anxiety or isolation. The psychiatrist can see whether they're at-risk for violent behavior. Since the program's initiation as a whole, it has removed 25 students from schools, 44 placed in alternative schools and 38 sent to the hospital. ECISD hopes the program can continue to expand, where schools can stay proactive and hopefully prevent more tragic events from happening.

"I appreciate the fact people are acknowledging that we really need a mental health component in schools, it's not going away and we need to be there to support and help," said Vanley. "There's support for kids, we want to make sure they get it."

The district hopes more parents will get on board and get more involved with the program.

There's no telling when or whether the mental health plan will make its way across the state. The price tag is about $20 million for additional mental health services. Abbott would have to call a special session and state lawmakers won't meet in Austin again until January of next year.

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