Program Aims to Improve Mental Health of West Texas Children

The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health, on behalf of the, is helping improve the mental health of West Texas middle and high school students through the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) Project.

TWITR was created as a demonstration project grant funded by the Texas Governor’s Office to promote school safety.  This is accomplished by providing assessment and referral services to students who may be struggling with behavioral or mental health disorders, as well as providing training and support to teachers, school counselors and administrative staff.

“An estimated 21 percent of adolescents suffer from a mental health disorder, and many never receive any type of treatment,” said TWITR Project Lead and Licensed Professional Counselor Mari Evans. “Assessments provided by the TWITR project are used to identify mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis and thoughts of suicide.”

The project is serving school districts in Plainview, Abernathy, Shallowater, Idalou, Ralls and Crosbyton. To date, more than 850 educators have been trained to identify mental health issues in students and to provide positive classroom interventions. So far, more than 60 children have been referred for services. Following screening, students may be referred to local mental health resources, while more intense cases are referred to the TTUHSC Department of Psychiatry via telemedicine.

“One of our primary goals is to train educators to identify students who may have mental health disorders so they can better intervene in the classroom as well as help them get the services they need,” said Rebekah Miller, a licensed professional counselor with the TWITR Project. “This innovative training will complement student/parent training and is intended to yield a healthy adolescent environment within the schools and by extension, to communities.”

This training component has been selected by the Texas Education Agency as the primary training module required for educators and educators in training by Senate Bill 460. The F. Marie Hall Institute is in the process of developing a website with additional training information for educators. This site will provide interactive learning resources, social media extensions, best practices for positive classroom management and connections to an engaged, interactive community of professionals that serve adolescents. For more information, visit www.twitrproject.org.

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