Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is a comprehensive, integrated, public health approach to the delivery of early intervention and treatment services for persons with potential health/wellness issues.  SBIRT is an evidence-based strategy used in health settings and higher education institutions to help identify potential health issues and connect students to resources for help.   SBIRT is intended to meet the public health goal of reducing harm and negative consequences from various wellness issues.

Screening quickly assesses the severity of issue(s) and identifies the appropriate options for referral.

Brief intervention focuses on increasing insight and awareness regarding issue and motivation toward behavioral change or utilization of resources.

Referral to treatment provides those identified as needing more extensive assistance with connections to resources.

Information modified from SAMHSA, 2017

Program Rationale

Research suggests that students’ ability and readiness to learn is diminished if they are not in a state of physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual well-being1.  Their preparedness to learn influences their academic performance, and influences persistence, retention, and graduation1.  At Iowa State University (ISU), students report that the top four impediments to their academic success are stress, sleep, depression, and anxiety – all related to their well-being2.  In addition, research suggests that substance use, basic need insecurity, and other mental health issues such as eating disorders have strikingly negative consequences on academic performance and wellbeing1,2,3,4.  Trends in students at college with mental health concerns at ISU and nationally are rising, and other issues such as substance use and need insecurity are still at problematic levels1,2,3,4,5.  Research suggests that student awareness and utilization of campus resources, particularly for mental health, is low due to various personal and institutional factors6,7,8.  Utilizing a comprehensive, integrated public health approach to help with early identification of issues that affect student health and wellbeing, and intentional connections to resources is critical.  SBIRT is one evidence-based strategy that should be part of a larger, comprehensive plan at ISU to more strategically and systematically identify students with potential wellness issues and connect them to resources.  Students who connect and utilize resources are more likely to have higher levels of retention, improve their academic performance, and improve in areas of their wellbeing9


1. Douce, L. A., & Keeling, R. P. (2014). A Strategic Primer on College Student Mental Health.  Retrieved from  https://www.apa.org/pubs/newsletters/access/2014/10-14/college-mental-health.pdf

2. National College Health Assessment – Iowa State University 2010 – 2017

3. National Eating Disorders Association. (2013). Eating Disorders on College Campuses. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/CollegeSurvey/CollegiateSurveyProject.pdf

4. Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., Schneider, J., Hernandez, A., & Cady, C. (2018).  Still hungry and homeless in college. Retrieved from  http://wihopelab.com/publications/Wisconsin-HOPE-Lab-Still-Hungry-and-Homeless.pdf 

5. American Psychological Association. (2018). Campus mental health. Retrieved from  http://www.apa.org/advocacy/higher-education/mental-health/index.aspx

6. Francis, P., & Horn, A. (2016). Campus based practices for promoting student success: Counseling services. Retrieved from  https://www.mhec.org/sites/mhec.org/files/201602counseling_services.pdf 

7. Lee., C. (2017) Improving student access & utilization of campus mental health resources. Retrieved from https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Lee_NASPA_Memo.pdf 

8. Hunt, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2009). Mental health problems and help seeking behavior among college students. Retrieved from http://www-personal.umich.edu/~daneis/symposium /2010/ARTICLES/hunt_eisenberg_2010.pdf

9. Wakeforest Wellbeing Collaborative.  Citations connecting wellbeing, retention, and grades.  Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-wxl3Uuh91qzmRgGf_jf3MWnwi6Knp186YLelqUIHhQ/edit#gid=0