UW–Madison’s Katie Eklund offers expertise on school mental health screenings in EdWeek article

By Laurel White

Mental health screenings are a valuable tool for identifying students who need additional support, but they are only the first step in effectively addressing youth mental health in schools, a School of Education faculty member said in a recent interview with EdWeek. 

Katie Eklund, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, recently offered her expertise on the issue in an article about school mental health screening proposals advancing in legislatures across the country. Some states have moved to create programs and provide state funding for the screenings, while others are advancing legislation to require parental consent before a screening takes place. 

Katie Eklund

As the article notes, school mental health screenings can help schools determine if students have symptoms of mental health problems including depression and anxiety. The screenings are recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Center for School Mental Health.

However, according to Eklund, the screenings should be considered only a starting point for getting students the services they need. 

“Typically, screeners are not diagnostic,” Eklund said in the article. “Just because a child receives a screening measure, it isn’t going to say, ‘this student has clinical rates of depression’ or ‘this student has ADHD.’ It’s more designed to be a red flag indicator to say, ‘Hey something is going on with this student. We need to gather more information to find out how we can best help support them.’”

Eklund noted roughly 80% of students flagged by a screening are already showing signs of struggling with their mental health. However, she said the evaluations are especially helpful in identifying young people who are struggling, but not outwardly displaying symptoms. She said the screenings can help schools determine how many school psychologists to hire and what kinds of services to provide. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of 500 students to every school psychologist. Some states have set policies that establish that ratio as a goal for schools. 

“Those types of policies ensure that school psychologists are available to consider the mental health and well-being of all students in their school, and then are also there to provide individual and small group support to kids who need something more,” Eklund said.

Eklund currently serves as co-director of the Madison Education Partnership, a research-practice partnership between the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). That program recently received a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train school psychologists and expand culturally responsive mental health services in Madison schools.

Eklund also serves as co-director of the School Mental Health Collaborative, a center focused on conducting research that informs policy and practice related to the promotion of social-emotional and behavioral success of all students.

Read the entire article in EdWeek here

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