US schools struggle with mental health screening

January 13, 2014 by Kelli Kennedy

School officials around the U.S. are searching for the best way to offer mental health services in an underfunded system.

"We have (schools) screening for all kinds of rare infectious diseases, and then we don't screen for common behavioral disorders that are costly to the individual, the family and society," said Mike Dennis, of Chestnut Health Systems. He teaches clinicians in 49 states how to assess and treat patients with and substance abuse.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that significantly affect their daily lives.

A decade ago, recommended universal screenings for students, but it's still not required. An Associated Press review of policies around the nation shows screenings vary widely. There's no consistency on whether the schools screen, at what age they screen and what they screen for.

The federal government does not keep track of school mental health screening, so it's all but impossible to say how many schools offer it. The offerings vary from intensive services to virtually none at all.

"No state is providing high-end services in all of their schools," said Sharon Stephan, co-director of the Center for School Mental Health, a national organization that provides training for schools and .

Mental health issues typically start during adolescence, but many people are not diagnosed until later in life when they don't have access to services because they don't have health insurance or their insurance doesn't cover it.

However, offering mental health screening in schools can raise other complex issues. Some warn that mass screenings will over-diagnose students and stigmatize them with a life-long label.

Some say mass screenings could uncover that schools lack resources to treat.

"Once we screen and assess and discover the need, I think it's our responsibility to have the resources in place to service every one of those needs that are uncovered," said Denise Wheatley-Rowe, of Behavioral Health System Baltimore.

The organization developed a system that has gained national recognition using a team of school officials and community mental health experts to target students most in need. The program helps nearly 7,000 children a year.

The team identifies children who may need help based on factors like whether they have a parent in prison or who struggles with . It also scans data for those struggling academically and behaviorally, including those with high truancy or suspension rates, and then offers individual counseling or family therapy based on the student's need.

Explore further: Schools need collaboration, not packaged solutions, for best mental health programs

Related Stories

Most teen mental health problems go untreated

November 18, 2013

More than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders receive no treatment of any sort, says a new study by E. Jane Costello, a Duke University professor of psychology and epidemiology and associate director of the Duke ...

Recommended for you

Serious research into what makes us laugh

November 24, 2015

More complex jokes tend to be funnier but only up to a point, Oxford researchers have found. Jokes that are too complicated tend to lose the audience.

Psychologists dispute continuum theory of sexual orientation

November 19, 2015

Washington State University researchers have established a categorical distinction between people who are heterosexual and those who are not. By analyzing the reported sexual behavior, identity and attraction of more than ...

Babies have logical reasoning before age one, study finds

November 18, 2015

Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.