RE: [xmca] RE: mental health

From: <ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at>
Date: Mon Jul 14 2008 - 07:50:34 PDT

Peter, Achilles and all:

Thank you for that contribution Peter. I believe the summary of what
issues public schools face in providing mental health services to students
is certainly right on. One of the issues not addressed is the willingness
of the adolescent to accept that their behaviors are troublesome. I know
that social engineering is a political buzzword and don't particularly like
it but chose to use it because of the emotional charge it carries. It
certainly is possible to provide assistance to someone suffering a mental
health issue by changing the environment but if that person does not see
the purpose in helping themselves then what is the point? Well, it
certainly isn't hopeless and great things happen all the time regarding the
delivery of mental health services and the change that does come about over
time for people who accept the service. One aspect being medication, one
aspect being to assist the individual to become involved in meaningful
social activities, one aspect being the education of a natural support
network for the mentally ill.

I parralled mental illness with literacy because I view literacy much in
the same way as I view mental health. If a person who is illiterate does
not want to learn the skill, does not see a purpose in learning the skill
(a friend of mine who is a successful well driller for instance) and in
fact the person is resentful to teachers for mistreating them and looking
down on them for not being good at the skill then what is the point?

So then, where do we go from here? Alternatives to the academic push of
completing academic credits to graduate from high school would be a nice


                      Smagorinsky" To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <>
                      <> cc:
                      Sent by: Subject: RE: [xmca] RE: mental health
                      07/11/2008 02:24
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

Achilles asks:
Can we really creat semiotical means to produce better mental health to
people? Or this kind of a goal is a mistake like possible Vygotsky´s or
perhaps some Vygotsky's followers' mistakes about 'social engeneering'?

I would say YES to the first question. I'll take a shortcut and paste
something in below from a book I've coauthored about The Discourse of
Character Education (Erlbaum, 2005, with Joel Taxel). It draws on the
dissertation of Leslie Cook, who looked at young women with depressive
disorders and the mediational means they use to make sense of their lives.
My apologies for the length of the following excerpt.

Mental Health and Character Education
             We have briefly expressed our concern that the issue of mental
health is virtually absent from discussions about character education. Yet
many students who come to school with a mental health problems are treated
as discipline problems of the sort measured as indexes of low character in
the proposals we have studied. We believe that it is important for any
character education initiative to recognize and account for mental health
in its conception of good character, both for those with nonnormative
makeups and those with whom they interact.
             Mental health is the elephant in the character education
closet. The World Health Organization (2001) reports that about 7.5
million children in the U. S.?12% of all children under 18?have mental
disorders, nearly half of which lead to serious disability. Jamison (1997)
found that 20% of high school students had seriously considered committing
suicide during the year prior to his study, with most having drawn up a
suicide plan; suicide is the #3 cause of death of teenagers between 15 and
19 years of age, often following from a depressive disorder. Yet most
parents and teachers feel that mental health issues are poorly addressed in
schools (Dowling & Pound, 1994; Rappaport & Carolla, 1999), many teachers
have little understanding of how to recognize or respond to students with
mental health problems (Madison, 1996), and only recently has mental health
been identified as a reason to develop an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
for students.
             These widespread misunderstandings have resulted in many such
students being regarded as troublesome or lacking character in schools.
Yet, as reporter Anne Imse (1999) wrote following the Columbine school
shooting tragedy,
Even teens as dangerously troubled as Eric Harris stand a good chance of
slipping through the cracks in Jefferson County and across Colorado,
failing to get badly needed mental health care. There are serious
roadblocks to getting treatment for sick kids [including]
? State prohibitions against law enforcement agencies telling schools
about a problem kid unless there's a conviction;
? Schools worrying about being saddled with psychiatric bills if they
recommend treatment, or even being sued;
? Not enough money earmarked for counselors and counseling for the state's
So, even though Jefferson County school officials have become more
sensitive to kids' mental states . . . they remain hamstrung about
arranging treatment. "We have no place to go with them," said Clark
Bencomo, a counselor at Green Mountain High School. "All we can do is
suspend or expel." "We are oftentimes reduced to putting a kid in a place
where they're safe, but it's not the right program," added Kay Cessna,
intervention services director for Jefferson County schools. "There are not
enough places." [One parent of a child with disabilities complained],
"They don't have the time, the manpower, and they don't get it." (
Cook (2004) finds this problem occurring in other states as well, reporting
that students with mental health problems are often put in special
education programs or disciplined when they act out, either as a
consequence of their makeup (e.g., a child with Tourette's syndrome's
involuntary profanity) or in response to the taunting they face from their
             Yet a mental health professional would surely argue that the
problem is not a lack of character and the solution is not to punish
students with mental health problems. Rather, a broader understanding of
mental health among students and faculty?the sort of attention to climate
we found in the states from the Upper Midwest?would contribute to a more
sympathetic and less punitive environment for such students in school.
Indeed, Damasio (1994) argues in his somatic-marker theory against the
classic Cartesian mind/body binary, instead positing that brain and body
are integrally related not just to one another but to the environment. A
change in the environment, he finds, may contribute to changes in how a
person processes new information (cf. Luria, 1979; Pert, 1997); that is, in
response to developments in the surroundings, the brain will encode
perceptions in new kinds of ways.
Conceivably, then, changes in school climate can contribute to the
emotional well-being of students whose mental makeup falls outside the
normal range. The therapy for such students is still widely debated. While
medication and counseling have benefited many with nonnormative makeups in
their relationships with others, the medical model has been criticized
because it assumes that a normative mental state is best for all. This
criticism frequently comes up in debates about whether medications for
Attention Deficit Disorder are prescribed too often for any students who
have difficulty focusing in school. Some argue that prescribing such
medications is designed more to increase the comfort levels of those around
such students than to help those students themselves.
The jury is still out concerning the question of whether people with such
diagnoses are sick and in need of medicine. Cook (2004) argues that
relying simply on medication and counseling is inadequate; that a broader
environmental change that enables an understanding and tolerance of
difference, and gives young people tools for managing their difference, is
essential to helping young people construct positive lives for themselves
and in turn contribute to a more humane society. Taking a punitive
approach to difference, she argues, is regressive and only makes life more
fragile for those characterized as different and more emotionally and
cognitively unhealthy for those who surround them.

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