student at school

“I appreciate the fact that you are doing this for our children,” began a message from a parent whose teen had been screened for depression at school by Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D., and her team. “I think this is a great conversation starter for me to talk to my children about depression. . . We have talked about it in the past, but it's something that I would like to continue to talk to them about. I wish there was a program like this when I was a teen.”

The program the parent was referring to was Mood Check, a school-based mental health screening program run by Gladstone, who is a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. At schools that use the program—including several middle and high schools in the Greater Boston area—all students in designated grades are screened and offered additional support if they exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal behaviors. School communities have found it to be an extremely valuable way to further the health and wellbeing of their students.

“This program is a tool that schools can use to navigate the current crisis in youth mental health,” said Gladstone. “Research shows that addressing depression in the school setting can be particularly effective, and that teens actually prefer to receive mental health services in schools, rather than in mental health specialty settings. And anecdotally, teens tell us they feel comfortable sharing their symptoms and feelings because they know they won’t see us again.”

Mood Check offers resources that increase the school community’s mental health awareness and literacy, which serves as a prevention tool for adolescent depression. It also provides two-level screening, including universal, self-reported screening for all students, followed by in-depth interviews with those who are identified as high risk. Gladstone and her team communicate with parents and guardians about youth depression and resources, with more significant follow-up (both immediate and long-term) for parents and guardians of high-risk teens. They also offer referral access for all school families.

This program is a tool that schools can use to navigate the current crisis in youth mental health

In addition, the Mood Check team recently began to develop safety plans with students who exhibit acute risk factors or who do not have support services in place. A safety plan is a way to identify warning signs, internal coping strategies, supportive people and places, how to make the environment safe, and a motivator for living, along with providing the Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number. Students keep a copy of the plan that they may reference themselves and/or share with parents, providers, or trusted adults.

“This year, we were struck by the number of students who reported suicidal thinking or behavior to an adult for the very first time when meeting with a member of our clinical team,” said Gladstone. “It reinforces the importance of this screening program in providing students with a safe opportunity to reveal these thoughts and feelings so they can get the support they need.”

For more information on adolescent mental health, view “Supporting Adolescent Mental Health in the ‘New Normal,’” a virtual Social Change Dialogue hosted by WCW in October 2021 on how educators, parents, and school communities can come together to support mental health for middle school and high school students.


September 26, 2022


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