An Emerging Best Practice – Universal Mental Health Screening (Part 1)

Thinking Ahead to Implement – Part One

An Emerging Best Practice – Universal Mental Health Screening (Part 1)

By Shelley Seslar, Managing Director, Behavioral Health Services, NCESD
Published September 19, 2022

In our most recent Healthy Youth Survey in Washington State, in 2021, reports of depression symptoms spiked to an alarming, unprecedented 45% among high school seniors! How can we address such a phenomenal amount of underlying despair and loss of hope among our students? An evidence-based practice that is yet under-utilized would likely help – Universal Mental Health Screening (UMHS). This article is the first in a series that will describe the benefits and challenges, a local example, and a pathway to implementing universal screening of student mental health at school.

In schools, we measure students for non-academic prerequisites to learning such as vision and hearing, as well as for scoliosis, BMI, and career interests. Another useful measure, to support students’ wellness and readiness to learn, is to screen them universally for anxiety, depression, and risk of suicide.
Universal mental health screening hasn’t yet been widely adopted, but we have many examples of schools that are using UMHS – even in our very own region! Many educational and student support organizations across the nation are currently advocating for this practice, and the research supporting this practice is robust.

Naturally, important elements must be considered before setting up a universal screening program. Critical safeguards must be in place, and critical partners enlisted, before your team begins. In the coming issues of our Behavioral Health Services newsletter, we will discuss processes for implementing this practice. We will share the tools, research and lessons learned by pioneers, and will highlight a screening program in our region. Follow us on this journey! We will help you consider UMHS for your students’ emotional wellness and safety.

A recent article in US News & World Reports describes the most rigorous research yet – and the positive results of that research – on Universal Mental Health Screening programs at school. Click here to read it now!

In our next installment, Shelley will outline the initial steps critical to implementing your first UMHS – working with your school team and community mental health partners to prepare for your event.


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