As they return to classes this week, ninth-graders in Wisconsin’s Fond du Lac school district will be sent home with something for parents to sign besides the usual forms for sports activities and field trips: a consent for their children to undergo a mental-health screening.
With rising concern about adolescent depression and suicide, more schools are turning to screening tests to identify those at risk and, if necessary, help them get treatment. Voluntary screenings are being offered through school health classes, school-based health clinics and community agencies, which then can refer children for diagnosis and treatment to school psychologists or local health care providers.
“Parents are often thinking about school physicals and sports physicals as the school year begins, but they also need to think about the critical importance of mental-health screening,” says Laurie Flynn, executive director of the TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups at New York’s Columbia University. TeenScreen provides free 10-minute computerized questionnaires for schools, such as those in the Fond du Lac district, located about 60 miles north of Milwaukee. The questionnaires are designed to identify several mental-health conditions.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, half of all cases of mental illness start by age 14, and about 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18. Left untreated, such issues can lead to high dropout rates, substance abuse, violence—and suicide, the third-leading cause of death in adolescents. In a study of 2,500 students who went through the Fond du Lac program at six public high schools between 2005 and 2009, published last week in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, nearly 20% were identified as at risk, of whom 73.6% were not receiving treatment at the time of screening. Among that group, more than three-quarters completed at least one visit with a mental-health provider within 90 days after referral to school and community services….
By LAURA LANDRO
The Wall Street Journal