Governor Gianforte, DPHHS Invest $2.1 Million in Universal Mental Health Screening
HELENA, Mont. – Together with Charlie Brereton, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), Governor Greg Gianforte today announced a $2.1 million investment to increase access to universal screening for mental health and substance use issues among young Montanans.
“No young Montanan struggling with their mental health is alone,” Governor Gianforte said. “By investing in voluntary universal mental health screening in our schools, we can get young Montanans the help they need, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, and build a stronger, healthier Montana.”
Using a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) grant, DPHHS awarded the Rural Behavioral Health Institute (RBHI) funding to support the Screening Linked to Care Program through the 2024-25 school year.
During the 2020-2022 school years, RBHI led two successful pilots of school-based suicide prevention intervention in 10 schools utilizing a two-component process. The pilots reached over 1,000 Montana middle and high school students.
With a $2.1 million investment from the state, RBHI will expand the delivery of this life-saving program to reach up to 40 percent of all middle and high school students across the state. Thirty-seven schools have committed to implementing the program this spring.
“RBHI has done an excellent job piloting universal screening in Montana, and we’re excited to expand this program to more schools,” Dir. Brereton said.
Supporting goals established through the Healing and Ending Addiction through Recovery and Treatment (HEART) Fund, the program offers universal mental health and substance use screening and same-day mental health care for youth who are identified with high suicidality. Same-day mental health care includes an evaluation of safety and mental health status, brief intervention, and referral to appropriate care.
“This is a terrific opportunity to expand this important work,” Janet Lindow of RHBI said. “The pilot projects have been successful, and we look forward to working with additional schools in the coming months.”
School officials who have participated in the program, including Livingston Public Schools, report the program is saving lives.
“This program provides schools with a valuable screening tool to determine if students are at imminent risk of suicide,” said Todd Wester, Director of Community Partnerships and School-Based Mental Health for Livingston Public Schools. “There’s been situations where parents, peers, or school staff were not aware a student was suicidal. We have situations where this type of intervention has led to interruptions in suicide attempts.”
However, Wester said it's not just enough to know a student is suicidal. “RBHI also provides us that critical link to clinicians who can immediately meet with students who are at high-risk and advise on next steps for safety and care,” he said.
DPHHS notes several concerning statistics from the 2021 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The report notes a 30-year high of 41% of Montana high school students reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness (depression) over the last year and up to 21% of students had seriously considered suicide.
The YRBS report also includes a concerning 10-year trend. In the survey, students were asked several questions. From 2011 to 2021, there was a 16% increase of students who said they felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. There was a 6% increase in students who seriously considered attempting suicide, and a 4% increase in students who made a plan about how they would attempt suicide.