Science-backed scalable tools improve student mental health



Key points:

In the face of constrained time and resources, decision-makers in the K-20 education sector require accessible, cost-effective, and efficient solutions to tackle their most urgent challenges. Among these challenges is student mental health.

The pandemic has brought about heightened levels of depression, anxiety, and a diminished sense of belonging among students. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the student mental health crisis is unequivocally the defining challenge of our time. Unaddressed student mental health needs are associated with behavior problems, school violence, substance abuse, dropping out, and poor academic performance (Darney et al., 2013).

A science-backed and scalable solution for this mental health challenge is to provide students with an anonymous questionnaire that provides personalized feedback and supportive resources in the areas of mental health, well-being, social support, and psychosocial areas relevant to school persistence and achievement. This includes a growth mindset and a sense of belonging to their school or college. 

These screening tools, often referred to as universal mental health screeners, are not in the purview of most school administrators; however, when they become aware of these types of tools, most express strong interest in their own school using one (Wood & McDaniel, 2020). Furthermore, major educational and psychological organizations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Psychological Association, are recommending the use of universal screening (Albers et al., 2007).

Science-driven for greater success

A key component of this type of solution is its research-based approach. Studies show that screening students for mental health functions serves as intervention and prevention of developing mental health issues (Desrochers, 2006). As a result, schools and colleges reduce their present and future expenses and help cultivate a more healthy, connected, and successful student population. Additionally, a good universal screening tool is scientifically validated, and they are specific to the age group it is supporting (Glover & Albers, 2007).

Anonymity for more personalized results

As a whole, students are concerned about their personal information, such as mental health and social support, being associated with their school record and shared with guardians. Because student identifiable information is not gathered in these assessments, they are more likely to provide truthful responses and as a result they can receive greater personalized feedback. This anonymity also encourages periodic use by students, especially during times that are most challenging.

Comprehensive and brief

Another vital component of this solution is its comprehensive nature and brevity. Questions that constitute a good screening tool assess the most quintessential factors of mental health, functioning, and academic achievement. Using research findings from the past decades and most recent studies in education and psychology, a screening tool can be parsimonious. These factors include individual traits, social support, and relationship with parents, among others (Credé & Niehorster, 2012). Research consistently shows a link between greater social support and increased well-being (Batool & Ahmad, 2013). Similarly, having a sense of belonging in school is shown to support greater college persistence and degree completion (Hausmann, Schofield, & Woods, 2007). As a result of homing in on these domains and selecting short, validated measures, it’s possible to keep the questionnaire brief and increase student survey completion rates.              

Immediate feedback to students

Mental health questionnaires provide students with immediate personalized results and resources to bolster each of the key domains measured. The results highlight key areas of strength and areas for further development. Provided resources could include immediate access to services, such as the 988 hotline for mental health services, online resources, and other tools, which can all be used in real time and can be accessed at any time in the future. Furthermore, personalized feedback can be kept by the student so that they can track their trajectory over time, and they may choose to share their results with a closely trusted circle who can provide further support.

Low-cost implementation and easy tech management

Online mental health assessments can be low cost for schools and institutes of higher education. For example, a universal screening can be sent out to students via email, made accessible on school/college websites, and provided as a part of academic advising and counseling services. Furthermore, the tool can be integrated into a school or college orientation process. Schools and colleges can work with a trusted third party to host the survey on the third party’s server, to ensure student confidence in their data remains unassociated with their academic records.

Promising future direction

Equipping K-20 decision-makers with science-backed, scalable, and cost-effective mental health solutions empowers their ability to address challenges effectively. With strategic implementation of these types of tools —at the onset of the academic year, during orientation processes, at key intervals throughout a term, and making it accessible via course syllabi, school or college websites, and counseling centers—can significantly enhance the mental health and overall success of students throughout the course of an academic year.


1.Albers, Glover, T. A., & Kratochwill, T. R. (2007). “Where are we, and where do we go now? Universal screening for enhanced educational and mental health outcomes.” Journal of School Psychology, 45(2), 257–263.

Belfer, M. L. 2008. “Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders: The Magnitude of the Problem across the Globe.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines 49: 226–236. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01855. x.

2.Batool, S., & Ahmad, A. (2013). “Impact of perceived social support on psychological well-being of teenagers.” Sci J Psych, 1-6.

3. Credé, M., & Niehorster, S. (2012). “Adjustment to college as measured by the student adaptation to college questionnaire: A quantitative review of its structure and relationships with correlates and consequences.” Educational Psychology Review, 24, 133-165.

Darney, D., Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., Stormont, M., & Lalongo, N. S. (2013). “Children with co-occurring academic and behavior problems in first grade: Distal outcomes in twelfth grade.” Journal of School Psychology, 51(1), 117-128.

4. Desrochers. (2006). “Prevention in practice: Resources for school psychologists.” Communique, 35, 1-4.

5. Glover, T. A., & Albers, C. A. (2007). “Considerations for evaluating universal screening assessments.” Journal of School Psychology, 45(2), 117-135.

Hausmann, L. R., Schofield, J. W., & Woods, R. L. (2007). “Sense of belonging as a predictor of intentions to persist among African American and White first-year college students.” Research in Higher Education, 48, 803-839.

6. Juechter, J. I., Dever, B. V., & Kamphaus, R. W. (2012, December). “Mental Health Screening and Academic Outcomes in Elementary School.” In School Psychology Forum (Vol. 6, No. 4).

7. Wood, B. J., & McDaniel, T. (2020). “A preliminary investigation of universal mental health screening practices in schools.” Children and Youth Services Review, 112, 1-5.

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