Mental Health Screenings In Parkway

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Audrija Ghosh

A graphic featuring the top reasons for declining mental health, as said by Parkway students in an anonymous survey. “I think mental health can be a private thing and many grew up thinking going to therapy is a “defect” so many may choose to be anonymous. But at the end of the day, we are getting more open to sharing mental health issues, experiences we are all going through,” sophomore Emily Early said in the survey.

Each year, one in six students ages six to 17 experience a mental health disorder. These rates are increasing due to changing COVID-19 protocols. In response to a rise in mental health issues, Parkway has partnered up with mental health organization Care and Counseling to conduct a Student Wellness Program.

The program offers mental health screenings available to sign up for through an email that will be sent out Feb. 15. Through a 10 minute questionnaire, the screening program tests to see if students who meet a certain threshold score require specialized help in the form of therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists provided through Care and Counseling. Dr. Erin Schulte is the lead coordinator for the Student Wellness Program as well as guidance, counseling, and character education in Parkway.

“The ideas for the program started when the Mental Health Task Force at Parkway was discussing ways the mental health needs of our school can be met. One recommendation was instead of being reactive to students’ needs, we would go up to them and see if there was an issue first,” Schulte said. “The screening process would help detect certain underlying mental health issues before they accelerate and Care and Counseling could find a good fit for specialized help based on the individual’s needs and insurance costs.”

The provision of mental health screenings through an outside provider is unique to only a few schools in the Midwest. All information regarding students’ mental health will remain confidential to them and the outside provider Care and Counseling unless students choose to share it with parents or school adults. A student, choosing to be anonymous, struggles with severe anxiety and a serotonin imbalance, preferring to keep their academics and personal health separate. 

“I can get really overstimulated very quickly by very simple things. I just have to take care of myself in ways that are a little excessive to some people,” the student said. “I have a private therapist and that is mostly what I use to help me through my mental health issues. I know about the counselor systems [at school] and I do talk to my counselor; [she’s] the nicest person ever. But I’ve always been very scared to reach out beyond a certain point to my school just because I don’t want to be judged–I was bullied for many years because of my mental health problems and am fearful of it happening again.” 

According to a Pathfinder survey, 7% of students have used mental health provisions from school, while around 40% claim to have below-average mental health.

“Students may prefer not to talk to school adults in order to keep mental health confidentiality from the school. But, other times, while counselors and other social workers at school have some mental health expertise, many students require resources beyond what the school is able to provide. It might better explain why fewer students reach out for school help even when they need it,” Schulte said.

After piloting the program last year, Parkway will now implement it in all high schools, middle schools, and four elementary schools. While the Student Wellness Program is not currently mandatory, Parkway highly encourages it. One student who wishes to remain anonymous feels that the program could be a new take on mental health in Parkway. 

“I would like to take the screener just to see how I am doing mentally, although I am kind of getting tired of all the surveys given out,” the student said. “I have tried counseling through Parkway in the past, but even then, it felt invasive because all my teachers and counselors knew everything about me. I like that this is from a completely different, outside provider and Parkway doesn’t have to know about my results. I can maybe get even better specialists or therapists.”

Schulte has advertised the program through social media posts on Parkway’s Facebook account, parent emails and Zoom Q and A sessions posted on Parkway West High’s website. The first Zoom Q and A was Nov. 15. Additionally, health teachers will be talking about these screeners with their classes.

“So far, not many parents seem interested in it. I am really hoping [the Student Wellness Program] gets to a point where it’s an opt-out instead of a sign-up, kind of like a vision or hearing screening. That way, more students might be able to participate in the Student Wellness Program,” Schulte said. “We need to start taking mental health just as seriously as students’ physical or academic needs. This program is a step towards not only proactively identifying students who may need a little more help than others but also normalizing discussing mental health and not being scared or ashamed of dealing with these issues.”