De Pere school board looks at mental health of students
By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – One in three 10th-graders at De Pere High School reported feeling some form of anxiety or depression.
That’s up from 29 percent in the 2019-20 school year, but down from 36 percent in the year prior to that.
The De Pere school board heard an update from mental health professionals on voluntary wellness screenings of 10th-graders at its meeting, Monday, Feb. 15.
A grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction funded the effort as part of a state mental health initiative.
“Mental wellness is a major barrier to learning and academic success,” said Melanie Brick, social worker for the school district. “We’ve felt pretty passionate about identifying any students that were struggling so that we could intervene with them.”
She said 10th-graders were chosen for the screenings because by the sophomore year students have had time to adjust to high school and, with two years of high school left, there’s still time for school mental health professionals to help.
“It’s also the year where students seem to be struggling the most,” Brick said.
School board president David Youngquist asked how the district’s rate of one in three compared with any benchmarks for mental health, and added one child who is hurting is too many.
Brick said in any given population, the number of people reporting anxiety or depression is about 20 to 25 percent.
De Pere’s score ranks around the same other schools report, she said.
The screenings purposely cast a wide net, to catch issues which need attention early, before they have a chance to become more serious, said Amy D’Addario, program manager for Samaritan Counseling Center of Menasha.
The school district contracted with Samaritan to administer questionnaires to identify risk factors associated with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation or attempts and other issues.
If the questionnaires find something of concern, a Samaritan clinician meets with the student for further assessment, D’Addario said.
“That helps us make a determination about recommendations for next steps, and from there, we connect with parents or guardians to talk,” she said. “We provide resources and ongoing case management. We’ll stay connected to a family for up to 90 days or even longer if they need more time to make sure they have the support they need to pursue the recommendations we offered.”
The mental health grants, which the district has received the past few years, have also helped the district establish suicide prevention Hope Squads in schools from Foxview Elementary to the high school.
Hope Squads are groups of students chosen to be on the lookout for other students who might need help and to reach out to them or encourage them to talk with someone.
“These (Hope Squads) are a key component to reducing, hopefully, peers at risk of suicidal behavior,” Brick said.
The grants have also allowed the school to do staff development and parental outreach on mental health topics.