Mental health screening in secondary school

Mental health screening in secondary school

By Liz Lockhart

Routine mental health screening in high school can identify adolescents at risk of mental illness says a new study.  Authorities can then connect with the identified adolescents and recommend follow-up care.

The study is the largest school-based study by the TeenScreen National Centre for Mental Health Checkups at Columbia University.  It involved nearly 2,500 high school students.

Further findings are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Researchers studied six public high schools in Wisconsin between 2005 and 2009.  They found that almost three out of four high school students identified as being at risk for having a mental health problem were not in treatment at the time of the screening.

In the group of students identified as at-risk, 76.3% attended at least one visit with a mental health provider within 90 days of screening.  56.3% received minimally adequate treatment, defined as having three or more visits with a mental health care provider, or any number of visits if termination was agreed to by the provider.

“It is gratifying to have further evidence that TeenScreen successfully connects at-risk adolescents with mental health care,” said Laurie Flynn, TeenScreen’s executive director.

“The value of school-based screening is reinforced by this study and highlights TeenScreen’s unique ability to help teens whose mental health problems would otherwise go unidentified,” said Leslie McGuire, M.S.W., TeenScreen’s deputy executive director, and an author of the paper.

A computerised evidence-based questionnaire was included in the screening process.  The Diagnostic Predictive Scales-8, a self-report questionnaire takes around ten minutes to complete and is designed to identify depression, anxiety and several other mental health conditions.

Each student received a one-to-one debriefing after the screening.  Those who scored positive were invited to attend a second-stage clinical interview with a trained master’s level clinician.  Further evaluation as then carried out with a view to possible referral to either school-based or community-based services.

Screening for mental health disorders during adolescence can provide early detection and intervention.  Authorities believe this to be important as 50% of all lifetime mental health disorders start at the age of 14.

Undetected and, therefore, untreated depression and other mental health problems can lead to failure in the classroom.  Most tragically untreated mental illness can lead to suicide, the third leading cause of teenage death. 

The researchers believe that most young people with mental illness can be effectively treated and lead productive lives.

Source: TeenScreen National Centre for Mental Health Checkups at Columbia University  

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