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Mental health education proposed

Published (2/18/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Prompted by a young constituent, Rep. Andy Welti (DFL-Plainview) sponsors a bill that would incorporate mental health education into school districts’ existing physical education and health programs for students in grades seven through 12.

HF664 would direct the Education Department to develop age-appropriate model curriculum on the subject, but not mandate its use by schools.

“Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-fourths by age 24. Mental health education needs to be addressed in our K-12 school system,” Welti told the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee Feb. 17. The bill was approved by the committee and sent to the House K-12 Education Finance Division.

Welti’s constituent, Kayla Murphy, a Marquette University student, testified via YouTube that she has suffered from anorexia nervosa, an illness that claimed her aunt’s life. She said she hoped no other family would have to suffer because they didn’t know how to talk about mental illness with a loved one.

Lisa Hanson, a teacher at Red Wing High School, described having to tell her class that one of their classmates had killed himself. His family paid for her to attend a Johns Hopkins University training in adolescent depression, with the hope of preventing more adolescent suicides. “After teaching health for so many years I knew so little,” Hanson said. “Five percent of all teens are experiencing depression. That’s one out of 20. We need to destigmatize depression, we need to stigmatize suicide. We have to deal with this.”

Rep. Randy Demmer (R-Hayfield) said he understands the importance of the issue but doesn’t want to place more expectations on the Education Department while Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed cuts to its budget. Demmer, a proponent of local control, also wants to avoid “creating a dependence in the teaching community on the department to develop these sorts of things.”

A companion, SF1531, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

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