A Warning about Mental Health and Teacher Responsibility

When talking with parents about their child’s mental health, use caution: This is an emotional topic with potentially serious legal ramifications. While your perspective is helpful, you can’t take the place of a counselor or doctor who can diagnose and prescribe treatment.

Avoid saying things like “I think your child has ADHD” or "your child needs medication" or "you should go get your child tested." While teachers often have great insights and instincts, they are generally not qualified to offer opinions like these. Doing so could put you and your school in a difficult position – and end up creating more problems for the family.

What to say when you suspect a mental health concern…

When the subject comes up – and invariably it will – remember this three-step approach: Clarify, Suggest, and Refer

  1. First, clarify your position as a teacher and not a health professional, saying something like “please understand I am not a medical expert.”
  2. Next, suggest they find out more from their healthcare provider, saying “You can reach out to your pediatrician to find help with this” or asking “Do you have someone who can provide you with some good advice on this?”
  3. Then, refer them to the school counselor for input and other resources if they need more help.

As teachers we are on the front line of dealing with the challenges of mental health problems. But we must be very careful in these situations. Clarify your non-expert status, suggest they seek appropriate help, and refer them to the qualified professionals who can provide it.