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Oklahoma bill promotes mental health resources | News

OKLAHOMA CITY — Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, filed two bills to provide mental health resources and training for students and educators.

House Bill 1568 would add mental health instruction to health education curriculum. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, the State Board of Education would collaborate with the Oklahoma Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) to adopt standards and approve age-appropriate curriculum options for students in grades kindergarten through 12.

Boatman said the training would help students develop an understanding of mental health issues and how they impact the overall wellbeing of themselves and their peers. He hopes the training would increase understanding and help remove some of the stigma surrounding mental health care.

House Bill 1886 would require mental health training for educators beginning in the 2022-2023 school year for all certified teachers, administrators and support staff who interact with students. These employees would be required to complete at least eight hours of mental health training in their first year of employment, and at least five hours of additional training every three years following. Training hours would follow employees if he or she moves to another school district.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted the mental health of many Oklahomans, but especially our students, many of whom have missed a significant amount of time in the classroom and with their peers,” Boatman said. “The impact of the pandemic and months of isolation on our children’s mental health is something that will not be fully realized for years.”

“Teachers, who spend hours with our students every day, are our front line in spotting potential mental health issues,” Boatman continued. “However, in order to effectively recognize when a student is struggling with their mental health, our educators must have the tools and training to help our students receive the help they need.”

HB1568 and HB1886 would allow school districts to partner with nonprofits to provide or assist with mental health education if the nonprofit has been approved by the State Board of Education and ODMHSAS. HB1886 would also allow school districts to develop their own curriculum for educators.

HB1886 stipulates that, at a minimum, required mental health training for educators would include:

Strategies and action plans for helping students who are experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who are in crisis;

Introduction to common mental health challenges for youth;

Review of typical adolescent development;

Information on topics, including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders and eating disorders;

Information about the services provided by community-based organizations related to mental health, substance abuse and trauma;

Information about the impact trauma and adverse childhood experiences can have on a student’s ability to learn;

The availability of mental health evaluation and treatment by telemedicine; and

Information about evidence-based strategies for prevention of at-risk behaviors.

“These bills would allow the State Board of Education to partner with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and local nonprofits to fulfill this need, rather than bearing those costs on their own,” Boatman said. “I hope that the State Department of Education realizes the importance of providing students and teachers with these invaluable resources.”

HB1568 has been recognized as a legislative opportunity and key issue by Health Minds Policy Initiative, a Tulsa-based nonpartisan team of policy and mental health experts who collaborate with state and local leaders to advance innovative policies to prevent and treat mental illness and substance abuse disorders in Oklahoma.

HB1568 and HB1886 are available to be considered in the House Common Education committee.

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