Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has introduced a bill he says will address the need for major improvements in mental health care highlighted by the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Harkin, a Democrat, says the bill will reauthorize programs that focus on awareness, prevention and early indemnification of mental health conditions, with a focus on schools.
“We haven’t really trained teachers and other school people to recognize early onset of mental health problems and to seek appropriate services,” Harkin says. “The kid who is disruptive in school and may be disciplined maybe really does need some mental health services, in terms of what is happening at home or stresses and other things that may affect their lives.”
Harkin introduced the bill in the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pension Committee he chairs. “The focus on schools I think is appropriate, but my bill doesn’t just do that — I would say the major emphasis is on schools — but it also spills out into other aspects of society also,” Harkin says.
He says schools are where the problems may first surface, but there is also training for others who may come into contact with those who need some help. “The other part of my bill also responds by focusing on first responders and training them to recognize mental health problems, and getting them adequately trained,” Harkin explains.
“A lot of people just don’t know how to recognize those symptoms.” Harkin says the “Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act” passed the committee with support from both parties. He says most people can recover from mental health issues with the proper identification and treatment.