Require Preventative Mental Health Screening in U.S. Schools

Target: United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Goal: Require that schools use preventative mental health screening to identify struggling students.

Research shows that 1 in 8 students in U.S. public schools experience mental health difficulties that impair functioning, but only one tenth of these children receive special support. The main reason for this neglect is lack of awareness, which is not surprising when you consider that only 2% of our schools regularly screen students for mental health issues. The U.S. school system needs to adopt a nationwide policy of preventative mental health screening in primary education.

Screening would replace the current approach, which relies on staff referrals to identify struggling children. This ‘wait to fail’ method allows for intervention only after the issues have become fully maladaptive and difficult to treat. Preventative action against childhood mental disorders reduces the need for costlier and more extensive support later.  It also helps to identify more internalized issues such as anxiety, withdrawal, and various learning disabilities, which can go unnoticed for years.

These same screening methods can accurately assess high school dropout risk as early as the fifth grade, leaving plenty of time for successful measures of intervention. Nationally, only 75% of students graduate from high school. This places 1 in 4 American children on the pathway to poverty and crime.

We must protect our children from the many struggles caused by unchecked mental health challenges. By signing the petition below, you can ask United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to establish a national policy requiring mental health screening in our schools.


Dear Secretary Duncan,

As many as 1 in 8 American children experience mental health difficulties that significantly impair their functioning. Only one tenth of these children are receiving special support in our schools, however. It’s easy to understand how these children are falling through the cracks when you realize that only 2% our nation’s schools screen their students for mental health reasons.

Screening students provides the invaluable opportunity to address academic and behavioral problems before they have escalated. Doing so reduces the need for more costly and extensive interventions later on, and protects children with less obvious disabilities from years of struggling alone. Furthermore, screening can accurately assess risk of dropout as early as fifth grade. The current national high school graduation rate rests around 75%. By targeting risk factors associated with school dropout early on, we can significantly raise this rate.

By using preventative screening measures, our schools can save time and money and ensure the success of our nation’s future generations. Please take action to establish a policy requiring mental health screening in U.S. public schools.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via Flickr.

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