Colorado teachers eager for more mental health resources to help students |

Colorado teachers eager for more mental health resources to help students

Lawmakers have made mental health bills a priority following 2019 STEM School shooting

Saja Hindi, The Denver Post
DENVER, COLORADO - MARCH 3: Kristy Skarphol teaches math at East High School on March 3, 2020 in Denver, Colorado.
Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

When Kristy Skarphol started teaching 21 years ago, her students were concerned with friendships and dating, as teens always have been, but extreme mental health problems seemed like a rarity.

In the past dozen years, though, Skarphol, who now teaches at Denver East High School, has had students who attempted suicide and others who completed it. Her students tell her they don’t feel like they measure up or that they have to get four-year degrees, or some say they’re afraid a gunman might just burst into their classroom one day.

Skarphol was already juggling many demands as a teacher, but she knew she had to do something, so she got certified in Youth Mental Health. She wishes that all teachers would get that training.

“I want (students) to feel safe,” she said. “I want them to feel cared for, and I want them to feel like someone’s got their back.”

Anxiety and depression aren’t new, of course, but students appear to be dealing with more, whether related to testing, extracurriculars or getting into college — and constantly, in part due to social media and cell phone access. Some have family trauma and heightened fears related to political or social issues, experts say.

And like it or not, it often falls to teachers to identify and assist troubled kids.

Colorado lawmakers committed to making access to mental health resources a focus for the 2020 legislation session following the fatal STEM School shooting last May.

Their efforts started with Senate Bill 1, which expands behavioral health training for K-12 educators, including allocating up to $1 million annually. Skarphol is excited at the prospect of having such a program available so teachers know how to respond to students who start showing signs of distress.


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