Identifying mental health issues of secondary students in a public school setting.


Although research supports the need for expanded mental health services in schools, little research has determined whether a student is at risk for or is currently experiencing mental health problems. The purpose of this quantitative, nonexperimental study was to assess the presence of mental health problems among 9th grade students attending secondary schools in Washington State using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as a universal screener. A developmental framework was used in this study as a way to view student mental health challenges. The variables for social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties were obtained from reviewing the number of discipline referrals, inclusion in special education, or 504 Accommodation Plan. The population included 44 9th graders, 42 parents, and 2 teachers, all of whom completed surveys. Gender, age, total scores on the SDQ, and behavioral difficulties were analyzed using the statistical processes of ANOVA, MANOVA, multiple regression, and correlation to determine if a relationship existed between these variables and academic achievement, as measured by grade point average (GPA). Results indicated that although gender and age were not significant predictors of GPA, the SDQ was a significant predictor of GPA. This finding suggests that the SDQ is a useful screening tool. Furthermore, statistically significant differences among groups on the combined dependent variable were found. Specifically, students rated themselves higher on emotional health, conduct problems, and peer problems than did their teachers. The results of this study will enhance social change initiatives through assisting schools to use an effective method to screen for mental health issues, thereby informing the district about student mental health needs and thus supporting improved mental health and academic productivity.