Photo courtesy State of Texas

Bill to Provide Mental Health First Aid training for University Employees passes Texas Legislature

AUSTIN – Senate Bill 1533, which will extend mental health first aid training (MHFA) for university employees, has passed both legislative chambers and will be sent to the Governor for his approval.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed H.B. 3793 to provide voluntary, no-cost MHFA training to educators. In 2015, S.B. 133 expanded the availability of free MHFA training beyond teachers to include school counselors, nurses, teacher’s aides, school bus drivers, principals, assistant principals, and school resource officers.

This session, S.B. 1533, authored by Sen. José Rodríguez and Rep. Joe Moody, adds employees of institutions of higher education to the list of those eligible for the free training.

“This bill will help meet demand from those in higher education interested in receiving training that will better enable them to recognize students who may be developing a mental illness or in the midst of a crisis,” said Sen. Rodríguez. “This will help ensure that these students face less stigma in the academic setting, and that they’re interacting with faculty and staff who can steer them toward appropriate treatment resources.”

“Mental health first aid training has given educators the tools to recognize students in crisis and already shown real world results by protecting students, helping them thrive, and building mental health resources in our community,” said Rep. Moody. “Expanding that training to all university employees who regularly interact with students will multiply those results and get more students the help they need.”

The bill was proposed by El Paso’s mental health authority, Emergence Health Network. El Paso County Commissioner David Stout, who is on the board of trustees for Emergence, said: “Mental illness impacts nearly 44 million adults in the United States, with young adults age 18-25 representing nearly 22 percent. Given those figures, it is paramount that local, state, and national leaders work to provide greater opportunities for communities to treat residents who suffer from mental illness. I look forward to this bill being signed into law and El Paso County remains prepared to help treat our family and friends living with mental illness.”

The potential importance of this training was tragically highlighted last week by a fatal stabbing at UT Austin. According to news reports, the alleged perpetrator was suffering from mental illness. Additionally, May has been designated since 1949 as national Mental Health Awareness Month.

MHFA is an evidence-based training program that educates non-medical professionals about strategies and resources to respond to an individual who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis. Participants learn how to assess risk, listen to and support the individual in crisis, and identify professional resources and supports.

The program can be taught to anyone, although it is especially relevant for key community professionals such as teachers, health care workers, police officers, and faith leaders who regularly interact with Texas youth.