This study examined differences in the number and characteristics of students who would be identified for intervention services when universal mental health screening (UMHS) in a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) was added for those students already receiving social, emotional, and behavioral supports.
Despite schools increasingly adopting multitiered systems of support (MTSS) for prevention and intervention regarding mental health concerns, many were slow to adopt universal mental health screening (UMHS), a core MTSS feature, due to concerns about their limited capacity to meet the needs of all identified. In a sample of 3,744 students in Grades 1 to 5 from six schools, 679 (18.1 percent) additional students were identified by screening, representing a 180.1-percent increase in students identified with behavioral risk or need for mental health interventions. Using a series of stepwise logistic regression analyses, the study identified significant predictors of newly identified students, including gender; number of office discipline referrals; and externalizing, internalizing, and adaptive behavioral ratings. Findings are discussed in relation to opportunities for prevention and the systems needed in an MTSS to meet the needs of newly identified students. As expected, the study found that UMHS resulted in a substantial increase of students identified as at risk beyond those schools were already serving (180.1 percent). Findings indicate that current identification methods are likely insufficient to identify all in need, but they also amplify existing concerns that UMHS may identify more students than schools with already limited resources are able to serve. Advocates of UMHS should be cautious in recommending it before ensuring schools have the systems and practices in place to provide those identified by UMHS with effective interventions. 2 tables and 62 references