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Health

Park High School in Livingston Pilots Student Mental Health Screener

A photo of the outside of Park High School with a lamppost sign that reads "P Home of the Rangers."
Olivia Weitz
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The screening was given at Park High School after students returned to in-person learning. Students resumed a four day per week schedule on March 8, 2021.

The pandemic has taken a toll on teenager’s mental health. A recent survey by FAIR Health found that in 2020 Montana was in the top five states nationwide for the percentage of pediatric insurance claims that were related to mental health.

Earlier this month, as Park High School students returned to four days a week of in person learning, Livingston Public Schools piloted a mental health screener with ninth graders.

School nurse Holly Sienkiewicz administered The Social and Emotional Well-Being Screener to students.

“We’re concerned about your mental health. It’s as important as your physical health, so this screening tool looks at that,” Sienkiewicz explained prior to the screener.

There are other wellness screeners in Montana schools. This one looks for signs of suicidality and checks in with students at a given moment.

“It is about a five to 15 minute computerized tool,” Sienkiewicz said.

It includes questions from four screeners used by mental health professionals. MERET Solutions, a company that makes surveys for the healthcare industry, created it with input from community members and Todd Wester, who is the Director of School-Based Mental and Behavioral Health at Livingston Public Schools.

“It was a position we created out of acknowledgement that we were seeing a lot of need for student social and emotional support in the schools,” Wester explained.

Wester says screening is key to identifying which students may need support and mental health resources. This could include a visit with the school’s clinical psychologist or a social worker.

“We want to work with our community to get to a point where we can strategically utilize this survey at really critical times of the year. This is one as we’re kind of emerging and coming into spring and emerging out of a pandemic,” Wester said.

The district plans to do the screening once more before the end of the school year and is looking to expand to grades 6-12.