Columbia teachers learn about mental illness

Related Story

COLUMBIA - Columbia public school teachers and administrators are set to attend a youth mental health class Thursday.

The class is taught by MU Extension professors and is designed to give Columbia teachers the skills they need to help students with mental illnesses.

According to a report presented by Columbia Public Schools, somewhere between 2,160 to 3,600 students in Columbia have a mental health need that hinders their academic achievement.

Another report from a Columbia school board meeting shows about 44 percent of students with mental health problems drop out of school.

MU Extension is trying to lower these numbers by educating teachers and school administrators about mental illness and how to recognize it.

Alejandra Gudino is an MU Extension Associate Professor who helps teach youth and adult mental health first aid courses to schools all over the state. 

Gudino said educating schools about youth mental health first aid is particularly difficult because of all the changes a child goes through during their adolescents.

"When we teach youth mental health first aid we are talking about students ages 12 through 18," Gudino said. "During this time, students are going through a lot of changes in their lives, physically and hormonally."

According to Gudino the most important thing for teachers to remember is they are not doctors. They cannot treat the kids who do have illnesses, however they can help by noticing red flags.

"Research shows that it only takes one person to prevent a suicide and change someone's life," Gudino said. "Since students spend most of their days at school, we are trying to make it so teachers can recognize trouble and be that one person."

Gudino said mental illness is usually not something a lot of people talk about, and it can be pushed under the rug a lot.

"For a lot of the teachers and administrators we train, it can hit close to home," Gudino said. "Many people have struggled with depression or another mental illness and have never told anyone because they didn't think they mattered."

The mental health first aid course is taught over the course of eight hours and will be taught at West Middle School.

Because of how long the sessions are, schools have a hard time scheduling it.

MU Extension wants every educator in Boone County to take the course in the next few years.