Panel explores mental health issues

By Gaby Galindo


Panelists tackled questions about mental health issues following the Jan. 18 screening of “Who Cares About Kelsey?” Jan. 18 at the University of the Incarnate Word.

The panel, including the film’s director, Dan Habib, discussed many key issues concerning children and mental health within the school system and offered a number of resources and tools for children with mental health issues and their families.

The screening and panel discussion – which also included Clarity Child Guidance Center representative Leslie Wood — were planned by the Bexar County Department of Community Resources with support from UIW’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Dreeben School of Education, and the Psi Chi/Psych Society.

Habib’s newest film project illustrates the major challenges students with emotional/behavioral disabilities must face at school and demonstrates the innovative approaches and programs specifically designed to help these students thrive and become successful by teaching educators and counselors how to serve the needs of children who have mental illness, as well as their families.

More than two million adolescents in the United States have emotional/behavioral disabilities. Among them is Kelsey Carroll. Kelsey had been on a trajectory for failure since her freshman year at Somersworth High School as she continually struggled with her ADHD and was burdened by past experiences of homelessness, substance abuse, and acts of self-mutilation.

As Habib discovered in his research, part of the problem was miscommunication and ineffective school policies, such as “zero-tolerance” and segregation or punishment for students misbehaving or disturbing classes.

“Who Cares About Kelsey?” reveals what it takes for a school to change the trajectory of students dropping out of school, becoming pregnant, and getting into drugs or the juvenile justice system and putting it towards passing, a higher education, a successful future, and a possible career. The film portrayed special programs and reforms put in place at Somersworth to improve the school’s environment and reduce dropouts, which significantly impacts the success and progress of students with emotional/behavioral disabilities, such as Kelsey.

One of these programs included Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a school community-based program and national framework in place in about 15 percent of schools in the country to improve school environments and reduce dropout rates. It also encourages students to engage in adaptive, pro-social behaviors and prevent negative behaviors such as substance abuse and bullying. PBIS was implemented in Somersworth in 2006. By 2010 the dropout rate was reduced by 75 percent and disciplinary infractions by 65 percent.

In addition to PBIS, a youth-directed planning and transition support process known as Rehabilitation for Empowerment, Natural supports, Education, and Work (RENEW) was implemented to help Kelsey make her goals and dreams a reality by encouraging her to design and pursue a plan to ease the transition into adult life.

Habib said a big part of his life has been fighting for the inclusion of all kids with disabilities. In his previous film, “Including Samuel,” Habib documents the hardships and blessings felt while living with his son, Samuel, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, in addition to four other families who had a relative with a disability. It takes a look at what the family and community have done to include children such as Samuel and make them feel they belong.

“It’s all about a sense of belonging and a sense of a membership in your community,” Habib said. “And how can you possibly feel like you’re a member of your community if you’re not welcome in your own school system?”


“Who Cares About Kelsey?” is available on DVD and can be checked out from the Audiovisual Collection at J.E. and L.E. Mabee Library.

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