Steve Sharp is a school counselor in the Hempfield School District in Lancaster County. Like a lot of counselors, he’s noticed an increase in mental health concerns among students since the start of the pandemic.

“We have more reported concerns of depresssion, anxiety coming directly from students and from teacher observations as well,” Sharp said.

For years, Hempfield has used an online questionnaire called bhworks to help identify kids in need of help.

“Suicide prevention, depression, anxiety, bullying prevention, psychosis, substance abuse and trauma,” Sharp said. “It asks a series of questions that expand or contract based off the responses and then provides a summary that you can look at.”

At Hempfield, they aim to screen students in sixth, eighth and tenth grades. And every single time they do, a child is identified who was not previously on their radar.

“What we’re offering is a screening, a survey,” Sharp said. “It’s not a mind reading tool, so this screening in and of itself is not a diagnostic tool. It’s meants to spark more in-depth conversations in particularly targeted, concerning areas. So this can be a very valuable tool to draw out discussions with students.”

“There’s no question that kids are struggling,” said Dr. Allen Tien, president of mdlogix, which makes the bhworks software. “They respond to all the stresses we also face as adults…what’s going on in the world, being isolated.”

Tien said the software is designed to pick up on nuances that might not be visible to educators, peers or even parents.

“It’s like if you didn’t measure blood pressure,” he explained. “You can’t see someone that has hypertension, so obviously doctors measure blood pressure every time they see a patient. So what we’ve done is developed a platform, bhworks, that you can measure what’s going on with a student.”

Tien hopes the software helps to end the stigma of mental health treatment.

“They will almost always tell you if you ask them,” Tien said. “But it you don’t ask a student these questions, they often don’t say anything. People don’t see it. It’s not visible. They keep things inside.”

For more information about bhworks software and how it’s being used in Pennsylvania, click here.