Over the past decade, our society has made enormous strides in regards to acknowledging mental health and destigmatizing this topic— especially among the younger, generally more open-minded generations (Though, even young people have a very long way to go). With this in mind, the importance of mental health resources in schools has become an increasingly hot topic.
In our own district, MDCPS, steps have already been taken to increase student mental well-being and access to necessary resources (For students and for employees). However, these efforts are still not nearly enough. The majority of these websites are just a compilation of other websites that individuals can refer to (Examples: a self-care kit, mindfulness videos, etc.). A webinar series has also been created in Spanish, English, and Creole, with videos (mainly for parents) about trauma-informed care, available mental health services, and more. While this appears to be a potentially helpful resource, the large majority of these videos do not surpass 50 views, so there’s definitely an issue in advertising these (albeit limited) resources to our students and their families.
What are Universal Mental Health Screeners?
Clearly, efforts are being made in regards to increasing mental wellness within schools, but there is clear — and abundant — room for improvement. One program that is currently being pushed from the surrounding community is Universal Mental Health Screening for all MDCPS students and faculty. As proposed by the Miami Organizing Alliance, this screener would increase the ability of our school district to address each and every student’s needs in regard to mental health intervention and resources, thus working to improve the culture of mental health within our schools.
Universal Mental Health screening allows every student in the district to have access to the necessary levels of support and care necessary for their individual mental health, ensuring that every student is screened for potential mental health issues, along with providing them with the necessary resources (both in and out of school) necessary to ensure their wellbeing. The Miami Organizing Alliance has recently created a briefing for MDCPS outlining the background and importance, along with the potentially positive impact, of implementing a Universal Mental Health Screener for students within the school system.
Among the several findings and recommendations that the Miami Organizing Alliance mentioned, it was included that from over 250 conversations with MDCPS constituents, students felt that mental health professionals were difficult to reach, and teachers felt as though they were not well-equipped to support students’ mental health, but they are the ones who are responsible for referring students to mental health professionals. Additionally, counselors are feeling overwhelmed with the current expectations of their roles within the school, and schools don’t have on-site mental health coordinators full-time, so they are shared between schools. This is a reflection of the lack of mental health resources for all students within MDCPS.
Due to these observations, along with the additional research and information regarding mental health resources within MDCPS and other school districts, the Miami Organizing Alliance proposed the implementation of Universal Mental Health screeners, which would allow for the school system to maintain a “multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) and referral process in a reasonable and efficient manner.”, increasing the effectiveness of mental health resources for students, as EVERY student will be screened for the resources they need, instead of only those who are lucky enough to have a referral from a teacher and/or otherwise. This process ensures equitable access to MDCPS mental health resources.
While the Miami-Dade County Public School system has made efforts to improve the mental health resources and care available to students and faculty, there are still several steps that must be taken in order to increase equitable access and usage of mental healthcare resources within the student population. In the spirit of “Giving our students the world”, the implementation of a Universal Mental Health Screener is an imminently important next step toward this goal.