Thanks to Krista Seabrook for providing the content for this article.
Mental health screening is a process that is becoming more important than ever in schools. It helps identify the services that students need to ensure they have a secure and supportive environment that promotes learning.
The idea of screening for mental health can bring up many questions and even concerns. Who will administer the screening? Who specifically do we screen? What are we looking for and why are we doing it? When is the appropriate time to do it?
Many times there is a preconceived notion that students who have already been identified and considered at-risk are the students who need ongoing mental health screenings. However, by screening a broader population, you enable early detection of social, emotional, and/or behavioral difficulties before they escalate.
When you administer screenings for a larger population, it sets the culture and climate of the district by showing students and families that student wellbeing is a top priority. So let’s address those questions about mental health screening and explain how a screening should be done.
Mental health screening in schools: 5 steps for success
1. Build your team
A mental health screening team may consist of child study team members, school counselors, administrators, and even teachers. Each individual can have a specific role:
- Administrators can deliver passive consent messages to families and make an opt-out form for those who choose to opt-out.
- Teachers can administer the screenings during class/homeroom time.
- School counselors and Child Study Team members can review the data and seek out students considered “at-risk” to begin providing further support.
- Parents and students can be part of the initial planning team to establish what goals the district is trying to achieve by implementing mental health screening.
As a whole, everyone can work together to take the received data and make changes to the structure of school and classroom climate.
2. Choose a screening tool
There are a multitude of mental health screening tools available. Decide with your team what your school wishes to screen for. Examples may include:
- Protective and risk factors
- Stress levels
- A range of mental health concerns
While there are many screening tools for purchase, schools can also take sample questions from multiple screenings as a way to create their own. Using Qualtrics or Google Forms allows for easy online completion and data collection, which in turn, allows for quicker response time for high-risk feedback.
3. Get buy-in & obtain consent
We recommend providing information sessions for school personnel, parents, and students to discuss the benefits of mental health screening, how it is to be conducted, and how the results will be used.
Furthermore, receiving consent from parent(s) and students is non-negotiable. This may be done through either active or passive consent, depending on what your district is comfortable with. Consent allows for transparency, and is necessary in order to make all parties comfortable with the idea of screening for mental health. This may include:
- Phone calls or letters to parents
- Sending opt-out (or opt-in) forms via mail or email
Here’s some sample language you can use for passive consent and opt-out:
“In an effort to promote the health and well-being of students in ___Public Schools, students will be periodically provided with questionnaires, surveys, and screenings that address issues related to mental health. The information gained will support the school’s ability to provide comprehensive and timely support for your child(ren) if they require any assistance. Students can opt-out of filling out any questionnaire, survey, or screening that they are not interested in taking and you can opt-out your child(ren) at any time by contacting the School Counseling Office of your child(ren)’s school or filling out the opt-out form (here). A list of the questionnaires, surveys, and screeners is available below for you to review. We are committed to ensuring your child(ren) is supported academically, socially, and emotionally, and we look forward to partnering with each of you toward achieving this goal.”
4. Choose the population and screening frequency
Once staff and parents are agreeable and you have decided what type of screening tool to use, establish who will receive the screening and how many times.
For example, you can choose to screen the entire student population or only one grade level. Also, screening can be a one-time assessment or it can be done periodically throughout the year. Some options include:
- Screening end of year freshman after adjustment to high school
- Screening entire school population beginning, middle, and end of year
- Screening entire school population before midterms and before finals
5. Develop your response to screening data
When you conduct mental health screening, it is important to have appropriate supports in place so you can respond quickly to the feedback and data. Having a Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) would look like the following:
- Tier 1: How can all students benefit from further support?
- Tier 2: Develop targeted strategies for a larger sub-group of students
- Tier 3: Have intensive strategies and supports for very selected students
Resources for developing a mental health support plan
Here are a few resources that can help your school put a plan in place to support the mental health needs of your students and staff.