Illinois creating mental health exam for school-age children

KeepHealthCare.ORG – Illinois creating mental health exam for school-age children

SPRINGFIELD – Part of the national debate on recent school shootings includes a discussion on the part mental health care – or the lack of it – has contributed to the incidents.

Illinois is one of the first states taking broad action to address mental health in schools. Last year, a law passed requiring mental health screenings as part of student health exams.

Children spend almost as much time in school as they do at home. While academics are the top priority, the state is making big changes outside of the books to ensure students succeed in life.

“Depression and anxiety are the most common [issues] that we see in younger kids,” says child psychiatrist Seleena Shrestha. “Sometimes, it can be difficult [for] teachers and families to see what the symptoms are.”

The State of Illinois is creating an emotional and social screening test for K-12 grade students.

“Early detection and prevention is definitely important, in my opinion,” Shrestha says. “I think access to mental health [care], in general, is really slim and, obviously, people who are of lower socioeconomic status, it’s very difficult for them.”

The State wants every school to have access to the best screening tools, but while they figure out the best plan, school districts – like Springfield’s District 186 – are forging ahead.

“This isn’t a dangerous diagnosis,” says Sara Teeter, a District 186’s lead social worker. “This isn’t us saying someone has a mental illness. This is just letting us know if there are early warning signs so we can provide support earlier.”

This year, District 186 began conducting their own screenings in the form of a survey. For younger children, teachers take it for them. For older kids, they take it themselves.

“It’s really just a snapshot in time,” says Teeter. “It’s like taking a quick temperature, just to see where students are at, socially and emotionally.”

Though it’s in its infancy, the district is getting results and taking action, giving students the support and resources earlier than before.

“As a parent, I think it’s a great idea,” Teeters says. “Sometimes they struggle, and we don’t always recognize that. So, this is just another way for my kids and other people’s kids to be supported.”

The Department of Public Health, the State Board of Education and the Department of Children and Family Services are collaborating to create the screening test. They say it could take another year, maybe even a year and a half to come up with a final plan.


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