HANOVER TWP. — Responding to last year’s multiple suicides, the Hanover Area School District is taking the lead in offering free mental health screenings to local elementary through high school-aged students.
The screenings will be offered to Luzerne County students 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Hanover Area Junior-Senior High School, 1600 Sans Souci Parkway.
Marywood University’s psychological services will conduct the screenings for depression and anxiety in school-aged children.
Michelle Zapotoski, Hanover Area guidance counselor, said should there be an issue that needs to be addressed, a plan will be prepared for the child and parent/guardian before leaving the screening. In critical situations, Northeast Counseling will be present to provide the appropriate care, she said.
Zapotoski said parents/guardians must be present if their child is under the age of 14. The screenings are completely confidential.
Zapotoski said screenings were done last year after several area students committed suicide. She said she felt they were helpful and decided to open them up to all county students.
“As guidance counselors, we deal with mental health issues among our students,” she said. “Often times parents may not even be aware of issues in their child’s life. And with the holidays approaching, students sometimes have stronger feelings of depression.”
Zapotoski contacted Dr. John Lemoncelli at Marywood who agreed to have the school’s psychological services center conduct the screenings. She said students who come in will be asked to complete a 20-question survey and then meet privately with a counselor.
“Based on the responses in the one-on-one interviews, any next steps will then be decided, if needed,” Zapotoski said. “Northeast Counseling would provide follow up crisis services as recommended.”
Zapotoski said the response within the Hanover Area School District has been good, but she is hoping more students from other school districts take advantage of the screenings. Zapotoski contacted Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis to help get the word out.
“Early intervention is key for successful mental health care,” Salavantis said. “As students progress through school, they go though many changes that can be extremely challenging. It’s important these kids are screened for suicidal thoughts. I truly believe these screenings can save lives.”
Salavantis said mental disorders in young people can be disguised and it takes trained professionals to bring them to the surface.
“Kids can be good at disguising them,” she said. “Through these screenings, we are confident we can prevent kids from slipping through the cracks. I will support any program that will save one child’s life.”
Salavantis said based on her experience of dealing with families of young suicide victims, many said they weren’t aware of problems in their child’s life.
“Parents may not know their child is depressed or struggling,” she said. “I encourage them to bring them in for the screening and get a report. It’s another way to protect your child.”
She said children with issues will discover that there are people who can help and they should take advantage of the screenings.
“It really is a wonderful program,” Salavantis said.