According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 50 percent of the mental health disorders that last throughout life begin by age 14. Oftentimes, symptoms in adolescents go unnoticed and these children may battle depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders alone for years, putting them at risk for substance abuse and suicide. Researchers and doctors agree that early diagnosis of a mental disorder is crucial in helping adolescents manage their disorder most efficiently. The question is how best to screen these adolescents. Some believe that these early symptoms can be identified by mental health screenings at schools, while others are concerned that the screening in schools may do more harm than good. Seeking Out the Unnoticed Rather than waiting for adolescents to come forward in admitting a mental health problem, or for parents to bring their children in for treatment, one group is going out to the schools to find the students that need help. A September 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, describes a study conducted by Columbia University’s TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups. TeenScreen’s study took place in six public high schools in Wisconsin, between 2005 and 2009. Over half of the students who were found to be at-risk for a mental disorder opted for professional treatment and visited a treatment provider at least three times or more. Treating Mental Disorders Early The study’s author and TeenScreen’s deputy executive director, Leslie McGuire, emphasizes that TeenScreen reaches out and finds students who may have been overlooked for having a mental health disorder. Those who were in denial, or who were ashamed or embarrassed to say anything, or who may have felt awful, but weren’t sure why, were invited to come forward to start healing. Suicide ranks third as the leading cause of death among adolescents. When mental health disorders become unbearable and drive despair into young adults, sometimes they feel no escape except through suicide. Others turn to drugs, alcohol, and criminal behavior. Often the preoccupation and distraction of the disorder interferes with school work and social relationships. There is hope for adolescents who are treated for their mental health disorders. If they are treated while young, they have a great chance of achieving and keeping a mentally healthy future. Taking Things Into Consideration Dr. David Gyllenberg is skeptical about screening adolescents in school. He agrees that early intervention is needed, but stresses that many considerations must be taken into account when screening is done in the schools. Gyllenberg has researched about childhood predictors of the use of psychotropic medications. One factor he believes that screening must take into account is the difference he has noticed in mental health symptoms in boys and girls. His research showed that girls’ symptoms were mainly depression and anxiety, while boys’ were aggression, stealing, and misbehavior. Gyllenberg also stressed that school screening should be based strictly on scientific research. He fears that some school screenings could be errant and could lead to stigmatizing some children or could detrimentally alter their expectations and abilities. Research continues on the best way to identify mental health disorders in adolescents. Early treatment will bring early recovery-that could last a lifetime.
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