Have you been screened for mental health? Despite its growing prevalence, mental and behavioral health are not often screened by healthcare providers. However, implementing these screenings into health and human service organizations can have profoundly positive effects for individuals and families.
Have You Been Screened?
If you went to public school in the United States after 1984, chances are you have had a scoliosis screening. Experts understand that by implementing a quick screening exam for schoolchildren, they can catch serious spinal deformities early. Although simple, this screening has successfully mitigated the effects of scoliosis on hundreds of thousands of children.
Even if you have never been checked for scoliosis, screenings are still common in health and human services. Individuals are regularly screened for various cancers, diabetes, and STDs, just to name a few. It is considered customary practice today for many physical illnesses.
However, it is not the same for mental health.
Historically, health providers do not include screenings for mental health—and, if they do, it is often secondary to other tests. This is likely due to the siloed nature of primary healthcare and behavioral health; they are not treated together regularly.
Instead of preventative measures, programs typically focus on treating mental health issues after they arise. Unfortunately, the average US patient receives mental health care as late as 8 to 10 years post-onset of behavioral health issues. For individuals experiencing adverse social determinants of health, this help could come even later (if at all).
The State of Mental Health
Today, mental health is considered one of the top public health crises in the US. Over 1/3 of all disease in the US is mental health related, and over 50% of all US citizens will experience a behavioral health issue in their lifetime. For young adults living during the coronavirus pandemic, this probability rises to 63%. Mental health is a rising problem in the United States.
The 2021 State of Mental Health in America Report confirms that mental illness is
at record highs due to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly among children and youth.
Mental and behavioral health also play a key role among individuals and families reliant on health and human service organizations. Those who experience homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment, and poor health are significantly more likely to develop mental illness. This in turn increases the difficulty of improving living conditions, thus reinforcing the two-way relationship between mental health and social determinants of health.
No matter the area of health and human service work— homelessness, refugee work, domestic violence, LGBTQ services, elder care, food security, or whole person care—understanding behavioral health is critical to successful care.
Screening for Mental Health
Despite the rising prevalence of mental illness, evidence shows that screening can effectively catch early signs. In turn, preventative measures can help stop behavioral health issues before they fully develop. Screening is also a simple and cost-effective way to help those with lower socio-economic status gain earlier access to better resources.
So, who should be conducting these screenings?
The short answer is everyone. If your organization works with the health of individuals—particularly those experiencing adverse social determinants of health—then you should be including a mental health screen in your intakes and check-ups. This is because risk factors for many common mental disorders are heavily associated with social inequalities.
Even if your organization does not provide mental health services, screening can help identify who needs help. Once your organization identifies these individuals, community care coordination can help these individuals get in touch with somewhere that does specialize in mental health.
Screening for mental health is a fairly easy process. For programs that already do intakes and check-ups, adding a few more questions about mental wellness are a simple way to start. The American Counseling Association offers five steps for introducing a mental health screening into your organization:
- Secure Buy-In from Stakeholders
For programs working with funders, community organizations, and local donations, it is important to make sure everyone is on the same page. Implementation is most likely to succeed when approached as a group, so a multidisciplinary team can improve integration.
- Clarify Goals and Purpose
Not every organization’s goals will be the same when it comes to mental health. Consider what best aligns with your purpose as a program—do you want to be able to refer individuals to mental health services? Use your own resources to aid in behavioral health?
- Discuss Resources and Logistics
Once your goals are in place, community coordination can begin. Organizations that are in communication with other local initiatives are better able to share and spread resources, making the continuum of care for individuals and families much stronger.
- Select a Screening Tool
Each organization should consider their communities specific needs and culture when crafting the screening questions and tools. Case management programs like ClientTrack™ can help create and store screening results. ClientTrack’s ability to perform assessments and manage referrals make it an ideal tool for screening.
- Collect and Analyze Data
Once you have collected screening results, it is time to put plans into action. Data analytics can help improve understanding for what services are most needed and even help predict those most likely to experience adverse mental health. For those using ClientTrack, analytics and reports can be completed on-demand. ClientTrack gives social services organizations the tools and options they need to track, manage, and report on vulnerable populations.
As mental health issues continue to rise, health and human service organizations can meet the growing need by introducing mental health screenings. The more that programs talk about mental and behavioral health, the sooner we can help those who need it.