Should Mental Health Screenings Be Done in Schools?
Because of my youth, I wonder whether mental health screenings should be done in schools. Much of my childhood was spent being shuttled from doctor to doctor in an effort to figure out what was wrong with me (Why Can Mental Illness Be So Hard to Diagnose?). Everyone agreed there was some kind of mental health condition, but no one could decide on a treatment. So most of my childhood was spent depressed with occasional bouts of psychosis. This led me to ask, "Should mental health screenings be done in schools, just as vision and scoliosis screenings are?"
The Advantages of Mental Health Screenings in Schools
If we treat mental illness as something that can be detected by a routine screening, stigma, the leading barrier to treatment, will lessen. I dream of the day when having a mental illness is no more stigmatized than wearing glasses. We are long overdue for a dialogue about mental illness--and screenings for mental health are the way to start that dialogue. Like many other chronic conditions, early detection and intervention are crucial to recovery. Screenings would make this possible (Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness).
As a child, I did not know what was happening to me--no one told me anything about what was going on. While we learned about mental illness in our health class, I found myself suspecting I had one. All I knew was the suicidal thoughts weren't normal. I often wonder if a screening would have caught my illness and made it easier for treatment professionals to give me a diagnosis. I also wonder if my parents could have found support if the school detected mental illness and got me hooked up with treatment.
Yes, it's a controversial idea. Yes, it's uncomfortable. But the advantages of mental health screenings far outweigh the disadvantages.
After Mental Health Screenings, Schools Should Support Students
This goes without saying, but schools should support students with a diagnosis. This could be done by assigning the student to a guidance counselor, making staff aware of the student's condition and training them how to respond when a student was triggered, training the student in coping skills and conflict resolution, and so on. The school should not look for an excuse to get rid of the student.
When I was diagnosed in college, the university intervened when I became suicidal--by suspending me from class and evicting me from the dorms until I could be reinstated by the dean. (Exactly how this was supposed to help me is a mystery.) They were also hesitant to let me seek treatment at the university's counseling center, saying that long-term therapy was best done off campus. After my diagnosis, the university seemed to be constantly looking over my shoulder for a reason to expel me. For example, after Columbine, they did a no-knock, no warrant search of my room to look for weapons. Rather than supporting me, the university became hostile. This is not the way it should be.
Schools should be a safe place for everyone, and every student should have a trusted adult they can go to, especially after a mental illness diagnosis is made. Life is hard enough with a diagnosis--we don't need people looking for an excuse to discriminate against us.
Routine Mental Health Screening at School Leads to Effective Treatment
The good news is treatment works. Routine mental health screenings would back up this fact. The more sick people we refer to treatment, the more recovery we'll see. Even the "hopeless" cases such as mine can get better. I may never be able to hold down a full-time job. But I can hold down a part-time job, live on my own, stay sober, stay on my medications, and use healthy coping skills. That is my version of recovery.
The right combination of medication and therapy is out there. Remember, what works for me may not work for you. One man's meat is another man's poison. Routine screenings would allow for early detection and intervention, lower stigma by making it easier to know when to seek help, and help all parties involved come up with a plan.
What do you think? Should mental health screenings be done in schools? Leave a message in the comments.
Oberg, B. (2017, January 2). Should Mental Health Screenings Be Done in Schools?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2017/01/should-mental-health-screenings-be-done-in-schools