By Sara Kleinman
In Wisconsin public schools today, students are struggling with mental health at increasing rates, yet due to stigma, are deterred from seeking help.
Data reveals that students are battling difficulties with mental health at alarming and increasing rates. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction recently published the 2019 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which indicates that 49% of high school students are dealing with anxiety, 30% of high school students are facing depression, and 18.5% of high school students are engaging in non-suicidal self-harm (McCoy, 8). In addition, students suffering from food insecurity, identifying as LGBT, female, or Hispanic, and those obtaining low grades exhibit extremely high percentages of anxiety (McCoy, 8).
Figure 1: Self-Reported Rates of Anxiety, Depression, and Self-Harm
Source: 2019 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey
Figure 2: Self-Reported Anxiety Among Select Groups
Source: 2019 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey
Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic destroys all aspects of normalcy, the mental health of students is dramatically declining further. A study conducted by UW Health and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that 68% of high school student-athletes are experiencing anxiety and depression at levels high enough to require medical intervention. This data from the pandemic indicates how critical further interventions are and how urgently changes need to be made (More Than Two-Thirds…).
Additionally, stigma regarding mental health exists and is a prevailing issue. People struggling with mental health are “othered” and discriminated against in society. Self-stigma results when individuals internalize the negative stereotypes society creates about mental illness. Self-stigma has been linked to feelings of shame, low self-esteem and an unwillingness to seek treatment. One out of every eight high school students experiences self-stigma (Hartman et al.).
Due to dramatic statistical evidence and the increased stigma, the declining mental health of students is evident and of dire importance to address. Although some initiatives in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction are being implemented, so many more are necessary. Currently, mental health screenings are not required in Wisconsin public schools. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction only states that “with an increased focus on supporting student wellness, many schools are interested in screening students for mental and behavioral concerns” (Mental/Behavioral Health Screening).
Wisconsin public schools should provide mandatory mental health screenings for all students. Specifically, all students should be required to take the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs – Short Screener (GAIN-SS). The GAIN-SS was developed by Chestnut Health Systems and is a 16-question survey used to identify areas of mental health, substance abuse, and anger management that need to be further investigated (Global Appraisal…).
All students should be required to take the GAIN-SS, and districts should utilize incentives and consequences to mandate its completion. According to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), parental consent must be granted prior to its administration. Districts should also utilize the Mental Health Screening Action Planning Checklist provided by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (Mental/Behavioral Health Screening).
Conclusion / Significance
The mental health of students in recent years and specifically throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is unnervingly decreasing. Wisconsin public schools providing mandatory mental health screenings for all students is crucial in identifying at-risk students that need proper treatments and resources. So many students experience self-stigma, and mandatory screenings would allow them to receive the help they need without having to ask for it. Making mental health screenings mandatory for every student to partake in would also increase awareness about mental health issues and reduce the associated stigma that society creates.
“Global Appraisal of Individual Needs – Short Screener (GAIN-SS).” Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 20 Nov. 2018, dpi.wi.gov/sspw/mental-health/behavioral-screening-tools/gain-ss.
Hartman, Leah I., et al. “Self-Stigma of Mental Illness in High School Youth.” Canadian Journal of School Psychology, vol. 28, no. 1, 2013, pp. 28–42., doi:10.1177/0829573512468846.
McCoy, Katherine. “Summary Report 2019 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey.” Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/sspw/pdf/YRBS_2019_Summary_Report_DPI_Web_Version.pdf.
“Mental/Behavioral Health Screening.” Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 12 Feb. 2021, dpi.wi.gov/sspw/mental-health/mental/behavioral-health-screening. University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. “More Than Two-Thirds of High School Athletes Report Anxiety and Depression Since Pandemic.” UW Health, 2 June 2020, www.uwhealth.org/news/more-than-two-thirds-of-high-school-athletes-report-anxiety-and-depression-since-pandemic/53429.