Tucson Schools Often Turn Away Mental Health Training, Expert Says

While details are still trickling in as to the exact extent mental illness -- and a lack of reporting/intervention -- may have played a role in preventing the tragedy in Tucson, one local mental health professional tells New Times that Tucson school administrators regularly turn away help from a program designed to train teachers and parents to recognize mental illness in kids because they don't want to deal with associated costs.

There is a general ignorance about mental illness in the community at large, says H. Clarke Romans, executive director of the southern Arizona chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Specifically, he says, he's seen that manifest itself in Tucson in the form of resistance to a program called "Parents and Teachers as Allies."

NAMI sends professionals into the schools to train teachers and parents to help identify mental illness early and get it treated. Some schools have been responsive, Romans says. But many resist, even though teachers beg for such training all the time. Social workers and school counselors are eager, Romans adds, but not principals and other administrators.


"Many schools don't welcome us," he says. "And why is that? The reason is that students with special needs get an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which costs money. And...people who have to pay the bills really do not encourage teachers to tell parents, `I think your child has a mental illness.'"

He adds, "I have principals who have actively barred us from bringing these programs into the schools."

Could such a program have helped Jared Loughner?

"We don't know enough, but I can tell you based on what I've read just in the local newspaper of comments from classmates [of] this young man that probably three or four red flags went up....That back even in high school, you can see warning signs and red flags that we don't know, but they weren't obviously acted on in a way that got this guy help in any meaningful way," Romans says.

He says his program is new enough that he's certain it was not offered when Loughner was in school.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at

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