Mental Health Screening in Schools

Providing mental health screenings in schools is one of the best ways to catch mental health problems when and where they are likeliest to arise. Fifty percent of individuals who struggle with a mental health condition will show symptoms during their adolescent years. Childhood brain development research indicates that puberty is especially an important time for monitoring the onset of mental illnesses including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. This period is when individuals are most vulnerable to poor outcomes—but also where intervention has the best chance for building resiliency and change.

Mental health screenings can be implemented in schools through sharing resources with students on school posters or handouts at the nurse’s office, by providing screenings and education in health or physical education class, or as part of a ubiquitous mental health screening and education protocol. MHA Screening is designed to support schools across various levels of investment. MHA Screening is a free program available to any school district to share. On this page, we have provided guidance about how schools can implement and access additional resources, including using school-specific data to implement increased supports and interventions based on your students’ needs.

In this article:

Mental Health Screening in Schools

What is MHA Screening?

The same way you go to providers to check on your physical health, checking up on your mental health is essential in ensuring you stay mentally healthy. One of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to take an anonymous screen.

MHA Screening is a collection of online, free, confidential, anonymous, and scientifically validated screening tools. We have screens for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), postpartum depression, alcohol and substance use, and early psychosis. We also have more comprehensive screens for youth and parents.

A screening is not a diagnosis, but a way of catching mental health conditions early. Screening can help students understand if their symptoms are having enough of an impact that they should start a conversation with their doctor or a loved one about their mental health.

What happens after screening?

After taking a mental health screen, students are given their results, are able to print or email their results, and are provided with tailored resources based on their results in the following four domains: information and psychoeducation (“Learn”); information about treatment options and referrals to care (“Treatment”); do-it-yourself tools (“DIY”); and online engagement with peers (“Connect”).

MHA’s resources are written with young learners in mind. We curate the content based on what students have told us are their most pressing needs. Our resources are also designed to support someone who feels unsure about what next steps to approach as well as support for those students ready to take action through talking to their parents or exploring treatment options.

  • Learn: This work is developed by analyzing gaps in knowledge among users. We use our screening demographic data and analysis of natural language data from user responses to identify which topics to prioritize. We have also experimented with engagement methods for presenting this information to users who are searching for information both online and post-screening. Our efforts have resulted in doubling our reach annually.
  • Treatment: People have questions about treatment, but finding the right tone and gap in knowledge can be a challenge. Our work is in its earliest stages in trying to understand what kinds of treatment information most users are interested in finding and how best to present this information.
  • Do-It-Yourself (DIY): Just like one would read self-help books at a bookstore, people are looking for tools and tricks to apply at home, before they engage in treatment. This area of development is one of the most interesting but least understood spaces. MHA is actively working to develop and research tools that can increase motivation and engagement towards self-care, building skills and abilities, and transitions to traditional mental health care.
  • Connect: People who are struggling might want to find ways to connect with people or peers who are struggling with similar issues. In this space we’re trying to find resources and supports that can help people connect.

The science and validation of MHA Screening tools

MHA Screening tools are based on the most commonly used screening tools that are found in primary care. If a student prints or emails their results and wants to share that with a trusted adult, including a mental health provider, most providers should recognize the questions and answers to these questions.

Click here to see the studies and disclosures associated with each tool.

Implementing MHA Screening in Schools

You can promote screening to your students for free using the following methods:

  • Cards that are passed out at the nurse’s office or by teachers
  • Posters in the hallways
  • Sharing the link in an email
  • Linking the resource on your school’s website

In general, the best link to use for this is: mhascreening.org

Gathering Insights from your MHA Screening Data

For schools interested in collecting and learning from data through MHA Screening, MHA provides aggregated, de-identified results. These results can help guide the kinds of mental health programming or education resources to invest in among your current student population.

Each school is provided with a designated hyperlink that tracks only those results from your school. Through this designated URL, schools learn more about the mental health needs of their school community and tailor their outreach and response accordingly. Gain access to demographic information of your screeners as well data around the prevalence of mental health concerns. Better understand the real-time needs of your student body and staff so you can implement a more effective response. Getting access to your school’s data is provided through MHA’s Associate Membership Program.

Associate Membership Details

As an associate member, your school becomes part of our larger mental health movement and receives unique benefits to help support your school community.

Members receive:

  • A custom URL to our proprietary online screening program
  • Access to data analysis around the use of the screening tool within your school community
  • Technical assistance support for screening program implementation
  • Marketing resources to help amplify the mental health screening program in your school community
  • Exclusive discounts to MHA programs and initiatives including our online store and annual conference
  • Dedicated communication regarding new resources and public education support from MHA National
  • Recognition on the MHA National website
  • An official Associate Membership badge to display on your school’s digital and print materials to signify your commitment to mental health

Join the Associate Membership Program

If your school campus or school district is interested in joining MHA’s Associate Membership program, please fill out the online inquiry form. A member of our team will follow up with you to share more information regarding membership, including the cost, the application process, and the projected timeline for implementation. If you have any questions regarding the membership, please email Whitney Ball at [email protected]. We look forward to working with you to make mental health a priority for all!

Teaching Mental Health in Schools

Another important way to help children think about their mental health at a young age is to include mental health in school curriculum. Mental Health America has created many materials over the years that can be helpful in teaching children about mental health. We’ve gathered some of our favorite handouts and worksheets into one place to help you develop a curriculum for your classroom. These materials are free for anyone to use!

The ZIP files below contain all the materials for grades K-12. Guidelines on which materials to use for different age groups can be found further down the page.

Download “Body & Brain”

Download “Managing Emotions”

Download “Stress & Loneliness”

Download “Trauma”

Download “Understanding Mental Illness”

Download “Addiction and Substance Use”

Download “How to Help a Friend”

Download “Living a Mentally Healthy Life”

Curriculum Guidelines for Each Age Group

Click the buttons below to expand or contract the list of materials for each age group.

  1. Body and Brain
    1. Diet and Nutrition (Handout)
    2. When Changing Diet is Hard (Worksheet)
    3. Exercise (Handout)
    4. When Changing Exercise is Hard (Worksheet)
    5. Sleep (Handout)
    6. When Changing Sleep is Hard (Worksheet)
    7. Stress (Handout)
    8. When Managing Stress is Hard (Worksheet)
  2. Managing Emotions
    1. Ways to Manage Emotions (Handout)
    2. Building Emotional Intelligence (Group Lesson)
    3. Emotions Matter (Poster/Handout)
    4. The PATH to Calm (Poster/Handout)
    5. Owning Your Feelings (Handout)
    6. What’s Underneath? (Worksheet)
    7. Dealing with Anger and Frustration (Handout)
    8. Managing Frustration and Anger (Worksheet)
    9. Stopping Stupid Thoughts (Worksheet)
    10. Keep Your Mind Grounded (Worksheet)
  3. Stress & Loneliness
    1. Are You Stressed Out? (Handout)
    2. Loneliness Is Hard (Handout)
  4. Trauma
    1. Understanding Trauma (Handout)
    2. Adapting After Trauma and Stress (Handout)
    3. Processing Trauma and Stress (Worksheet)
  5. Living a Mentally Healthy Life
    1. Getting Out of Thinking Traps (Handout)
    2. Dealing with the Worst-Case Scenario (Worksheet)
    3. Finding the Positive After Loss (Handout)
    4. Looking for Good (Worksheet)
    5. Creating Healthy Routines (Handout)
    6. Planning Your Routine (Worksheet)
    7. Connecting with Others (Handout)
    8. Processing Big Changes (Handout)
    9. Dealing with Change (Worksheet)

  1. Body and Brain
    1. Diet and Nutrition (Handout)
    2. When Changing Diet is Hard (Worksheet)
    3. Exercise (Handout)
    4. When Changing Exercise is Hard (Worksheet)
    5. The Gut-Brain Connection (Handout)
    6. Sleep (Handout)
    7. When Changing Sleep is Hard (Worksheet)
    8. Stress (Handout)
    9. When Managing Stress is Hard (Worksheet)
  2. Managing Emotions
    1. Ways to Manage Emotions (Handout)
    2. Building Emotional Intelligence (Group Lesson)
    3. Emotions Matter (Poster/Handout)
    4. The PATH to Calm (Poster/Handout)
    5. Owning Your Feelings (Handout)
    6. What’s Underneath? (Worksheet)
    7. Dealing with Anger and Frustration (Handout)
    8. Managing Frustration and Anger (Worksheet)
    9. Stopping Stupid Thoughts (Worksheet)
    10. Keep Your Mind Grounded (Worksheet)
  3. Stress & Loneliness
    1. Are You Stressed Out? (Handout)
    2. Loneliness Is Hard (Handout)
  4. Trauma
    1. Understanding Trauma (Handout)
    2. Adapting After Trauma and Stress (Handout)
    3. Processing Trauma and Stress (Worksheet)
  5. Understanding Mental Illness
    1. Recognizing Anxiety (Handout)
    2. Life with Anxiety (Handout)
    3. Recognizing Depression (Handout)
    4. Life with Depression (Handout)
    5. Preventing Suicide (Handout)
    6. Life with Bipolar (Handout)
    7. Recognizing Psychosis (Handout)
    8. Life with Psychosis (Handout)
  6. Addiction and Substance Use
    1. Exercise Addiction (Handout)
    2. Internet Addiction (Handout)
    3. Marijuana Use (Handout)
    4. Sex Addiction (Handout)
    5. A Letter to Risky Business (Worksheet)
    6. Filling the Void (Worksheet)
  7. How to Help a Friend
    1. Supporting Others (Handout)
    2. Starting a Conversation (Worksheet)
  8. Living a Mentally Healthy Life
    1. Life in Recovery (Handout)
    2. Getting Out of Thinking Traps (Handout)
    3. Dealing with the Worst-Case Scenario (Worksheet)
    4. Finding the Positive After Loss (Handout)
    5. Looking for Good (Worksheet)
    6. Creating Healthy Routines (Handout)
    7. Planning Your Routine (Worksheet)
    8. Eliminating Toxic Influences (Handout)
    9. Detoxing Your Life (Worksheet)
    10. Processing Big Changes (Handout)
    11. Dealing with Change (Worksheet)
    12. Connecting with Others (Handout)
    13. Taking Time for Yourself (Handout)
    14. Prioritizing Self-Care (Worksheet)

  1. Body and Brain
    1. Diet and Nutrition (Handout)
    2. When Changing Diet is Hard (Worksheet)
    3. Exercise (Handout)
    4. When Changing Exercise is Hard (Worksheet)
    5. The Gut-Brain Connection (Handout)
    6. Sleep (Handout)
    7. When Changing Sleep is Hard (Worksheet)
    8. Stress (Handout)
    9. When Managing Stress is Hard (Worksheet)
  2. Managing Emotions
    1. Ways to Manage Emotions (Handout)
    2. Building Emotional Intelligence (Group Lesson)
    3. Emotions Matter (Poster/Handout)
    4. The PATH to Calm (Poster/Handout)
    5. Owning Your Feelings (Handout)
    6. What’s Underneath? (Worksheet)
    7. Dealing with Anger and Frustration (Handout)
    8. Managing Frustration and Anger (Worksheet)
    9. Stopping Stupid Thoughts (Worksheet)
    10. Keep Your Mind Grounded (Worksheet)
  3. Stress & Loneliness
    1. Are You Stressed Out? (Handout)
    2. Loneliness Is Hard (Handout)
  4. Trauma
    1. Understanding Trauma (Handout)
    2. Adapting After Trauma and Stress (Handout)
    3. Processing Trauma and Stress (Worksheet)
  5. Understanding Mental Illness
    1. Recognizing Anxiety (Handout)
    2. Life with Anxiety (Handout)
    3. Recognizing Depression (Handout)
    4. Life with Depression (Handout)
    5. Preventing Suicide (Handout)
    6. Life with Bipolar (Handout)
    7. Recognizing Psychosis (Handout)
    8. Life with Psychosis (Handout)
  6. Addiction and Substance Use
    1. Compulsive Buying (Handout)
    2. Exercise Addiction (Handout)
    3. Internet Addiction (Handout)
    4. Marijuana Use (Handout)
    5. Prescription Drug Misuse (Handout)
    6. Sex Addiction (Handout)
    7. A Letter to Risky Business (Worksheet)
    8. Filling the Void (Worksheet)
  7. How to Help a Friend
    1. Supporting Others (Handout)
    2. Starting a Conversation (Worksheet)
  8. Living a Mentally Healthy Life
    1. Life in Recovery (Handout)
    2. Getting Out of Thinking Traps (Handout)
    3. Dealing with the Worst-Case Scenario (Worksheet)
    4. Finding the Positive After Loss (Handout)
    5. Looking for Good (Worksheet)
    6. Creating Healthy Routines (Handout)
    7. Planning Your Routine (Worksheet)
    8. Eliminating Toxic Influences (Handout)
    9. Detoxing Your Life (Worksheet)
    10. Processing Big Changes (Handout)
    11. Dealing with Change (Worksheet)
    12. Connecting with Others (Handout)
    13. Taking Time for Yourself (Handout)
    14. Prioritizing Self-Care (Worksheet)

Resources for School Staff

Download Resources

  1. Is Your Child Lonely (Handout)
  2. Is Your Child Stressed Out
  3. Preventing Suicide (Handout)
  4. Recognizing Anxiety (Handout)
  5. Recognizing Depression (Handout)
  6. Recognizing Psychosis (Handout)
  7. Understanding Trauma (Handout)
  8. Tips for Teachers: Ways to Help Kids and Teens Who Struggle