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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bill would expand mental health screening for Montana students

Graphic: Montana Public Radio News: Politics

More Montana middle and high school students could be screened for anxiety, depression and suicide risk starting next year. A bill that would make this available to districts statewide was introduced at the Legislature this week.

House Bill 252 would require the state to contract with an organization to screen students for suicide risk as well as significant anxiety and depression.

The Rural Behavioral Health Institute (RBHI) has worked with the state on a pilot program over the past couple of years and will screen 20,000 students by the end of this school year.

Medical Director Heather Zaluski says that on average, one in 10 kids surveyed identified as being at high risk for suicide and needed follow up care that day. Twenty-five percent of respondents reported suicidal thoughts or showed signs of high anxiety or depression.

“Basically any student who’s identified in this screening can have a psychiatric evaluation,” Zaluski said.

RBHI helps patients find ongoing care after that initial evaluation.

Another regularstate survey that asks Montana high school students about suicide indicated that up to 21% of students had seriously considered suicide.

HB 252 would appropriate $2.1 million of marijuana tax revenue to fund that work starting on July 1. That funding would more than double to $4.7 million in 2024.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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