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Published on May 23, 2024
Texas A&M University-San Antonio Launches Mental Health Initiative, Trains Over 150 Educators for Student SupportSource: Google Street View

In a bid to combat the rising tide of mental health issues among students, Texas A&M University-San Antonio has unveiled a substantial project that aims to equip educators with the tools to offer early intervention. Dubbed the South Bexar County Mental Health Project, this initiative kicked off last October and now is gaining traction as more educational personnel are trained to identify and respond to mental health challenges in students.

The program has already witnessed over 150 teachers and education professionals being schooled in recognizing signs of mental distress, a necessary step when statistics point to a high number of students grappling with conditions like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. "This is really crucial,” Dr. Christine Gonzales-Wong, an Assistant Professor of Counseling at the institution, told FOX San Antonio. “Because the research shows that the earlier you intervene when someone is having a mental health challenge, the better their lifelong outcomes."

Stephen Lenz, chair of the University’s Department of Counseling, Health and Kinesiology, is at the forefront of this crucial project, which is rooted in a simple yet powerful notion: You don't have to be a clinician to make a real difference in someone's mental health. The program's ambition is to train nearly 1,000 individuals in mental health first-aid within three years, with an overarching goal of ensuring that educators can act as a first line of defense in recognizing students in need.

Reflecting on the lack of adequate resources in the South Bexar County area, a "health provider shortage area" as designated by the Health Resources and Services Administration, Lenz stressed the importance of this program. "When you look at South Bexar County’s regional footprint for providing mental health support, there's a clear need for increasing resources for individuals within K-16 educational settings,” Lenz said, drawing from recent data examining the mental health disparities in the community.

The project, fueled by a hefty $591,000 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant, will see the implementation of training programs designed to certify instructors and enable a systemic improvement in the referral of students to essential services. Lenz also highlighted the fact that graduates from A&M-San Antonio who go through this training will carry into their professional lives not just a degree, but also the interpersonal skills necessary to address mental health issues in their communities effectively.

With its focus on culturally and linguistically tailored assistance, this ambitious endeavor stands to revolutionize how educational institutions contribute to the well-being of their charges. According to Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the fruits of this project will not only be measured in the number of trained first-aiders but also in the increased referrals and enhanced support system for K-16 students, vital in an area where the need for mental health resources has been acutely felt.