An Emerging Best Practice – Universal Mental Health Screening (Part 2)

Thinking Ahead to Implement – Part Two

An Emerging Best Practice – Universal Mental Health Screening (Part 2)

By Shelley Seslar, Managing Director, Behavioral Health Services, NCESD
Published October 10, 2022


Last month’s first article in this series introduced Universal Mental Health Screening (UMHS), an emerging best practice similar to other school-based health screenings, like scoliosis, BMI, vision, and hearing. In this second article, I’ll 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.

First, start by building the support of your building administrative and student support team members. Your colleagues will want to know more about the goal of UMHS (share these articles!) and they will likely have questions about how UMHS can be done successfully. Eventually, the team should consider whether school board approval should be sought for the proposed UMHS event.

Second, once your school team is behind the idea, rally your community mental health partners. Can you find a champion-leader from that group? Is there an existing community health services meeting held regularly to bring this proposal to for advice and support? Invite community mental health partners to a workgroup meeting to learn more about UMHS (invite Shelley from your ESD!) and gain commitment to help plan and support your school’s UMHS. When starting from scratch, it could take six months of regular meetings to put together a plan well. In subsequent years, far fewer meetings and less time will be necessary to sustain your school’s UMHS.

Once you have building, district, and partner commitment to UMHS, it’s time to get down to the business of working out details. Since partners are involved, it will be important to ask your district administrators if they desire an Interagency Memorandum of Understanding that outlines basic responsibilities of each partner. The MOU can be developed over the course of the planning meetings, and finalized near the event, as the logistics will develop throughout the planning stage.

Since this workgroup involves partners working together, it would be a good practice to use a shared leadership model with a leader selected from the school and one from each of the community agencies. Both would develop agendas, lead topics, and liaison with the organizations they represent. Some of the topics to cover during the course of the workgroup will include:

  • Screening tool selection,
  • Timeline on the day of the event,
  • Assignment and roles of community and school staff on campus during event,
  • Triage screening scores and protocols,
  • Parent/caregiver contacts,
  • Further assessment protocol,
  • Immediate crisis appointments, and
  • Scheduling open mental health intakes.

Suggested Further Reading

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Ready, Set, Go, Review: Screening for Behavioral Health Risk in Schools. Rockville, MD: Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019.

Next in the series, we will consider these logistics and other details of UMHS. Click here to read Part 3 now. Please reach out to Shelley Seslar at 509-665-2626 for assistance.


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