UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Social Science Research Institute’s Evidence-to-Impact podcast returns with its 19th episode, “Mental Health Screenings for Adolescents in the K-12 School System.”
The podcast’s moderator, Michael Donovan, the associate director of the Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative, spoke to Dr. Deepa Sekhar, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the College of Medicine, and executive director of Penn State PRO Wellness; Perri Rosen, doctorate, NCSP, consulting psychologist at the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services within the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services; and Steve Sharp, school counselor in the Hempfield School District, and K-12 School Counseling Coordinator for the Hempfield School District, about why having mental health screenings (or mood screenings) in K-12 schools makes a difference when helping children who might be struggling and getting them the resources that they need to succeed.
Deepa Sekhar discussed running the SHIELD (Screening in High Schools to Identify, Evaluate and Lower Depression) study through Penn State PRO Wellness, which aimed to determine if mood screenings in a school setting would be more effective at identifying students at risk and getting them connected to treatment.
“The screening tool we used is called the Patient Health Questionnaire, which is a very common, well-known screening tool. We use it in our primary care clinic, and that was compared against the current process, which is used in many schools throughout the country, whereby students are identified as needing potentially additional services based on concerning behavior or observable behaviors of concerns,” said Sekhar. “So, they have to show you something as opposed to the screening where everyone gets it regardless of how they’re acting.”
On the challenges of implementing screenings in the K-12 school system, Sharp noted that there was a strong misconception that mental health crises were individually isolated experiences that needed to have an individual assessment and analysis.
“And what we’ve come to know to be true is it’s the convergence of a lot of different systemic issue leading to that crisis for that individual,” continued Sharp. “And so, one thing when it comes to the implementation was understanding the different points that we could gather meaningful information and make meaningful interventions along the continuum.”
Rosen brought up the issue of school readiness and interest in implementing such screenings into schools. She noted that there was a reason most schools don’t just do it because there’s a lot of effort that must go into putting such a system into place.
“We spend a lot of time thinking about what schools need to really get prepared to do this in a safe and effective way,” said Rosen. “Because sometimes there might be someone at the top, a leader or school administrator that says, ‘we have to do this,’ and then there’s turnover, and that person is no longer there.”
The three discussants concluded that partnerships between different sectors like schools, government, and academia are important, even crucial to making work like depression screenings in schools happen on a wide scale.
Listen to the full episode here.
The Evidence-to-Impact podcast focuses on conversations between Penn State researchers from varied disciplines and government partners from across the commonwealth about relevant policy issues like poverty, criminal justice, substance use, and healthcare. The discussions aim to bridge the gap between research insights and real-world solutions through the translation of complex evidence and data into real-world implications and impacts.
Episodes are made available for multiple platforms including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Blubrry and more. Find previous episodes on the podcast’s website or follow the podcast on Twitter for updates.