August 03, 2006

TeenScreen - Some States Order Psychological Tests In Schools

The suicide rate for individuals under 20 years old is 2.14 per 100,000, and 1 in every 12 high school students attempts to harm him/herself every year. These are statistics being outlined in defense of psychological testing in schools. Some feel it is appropriate, while others say it is an invasion of family privacy.

Teenscreen, a psychological evaluation system developed at Columbia University, has been administered in 42 states, and Washington DC, to over 150,000 students, and New York plans to begin using this screening on about 400,000 students a year. Because of these overwhelming numbers, individuals, politics, and the media are taking notice.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), whose son committed suicide in 2003, said, "Without any doubt, had TeenScreen been available to us as Garrett's parents, I am convinced we would have been empowered to save his life. Logic tells me the more you know, the more you are able to help."

There is, as yet, no solid evidence these screenings have had any impact on suicide rates or attempts - but there is a lot of evidence that early treatment of mental health problems can prevent more serious disorders later in life. Some people argue that it is all too convenient this increase in screening popularity comes at a time when we are seeing a huge increase in prescribing antipsychotic medications to children (most of which are not yet formally FDA approved to be used in children); implying it may be in favor of pharmaceutical companies to boost sales. A search on will give you a plethora of anti-teenscreen sites, including a petition to stop its use in schools. But the teenscreen website allows access to recent research and support for what they do.

Whatever the real motive for these evaluations, research on the effectiveness of these screening should be continued. And hopefully these tests do not intend to supplement a one on one psychiatric evaluations.

Ultimately - as in most of these issues, the situation is complex. Scientific research suggests that earlier identification of mental health problems, with appropriate therapy and treatments yield the best results for people's long term mental health, and since most mental illnesses start in childhood, it makes sense to try to identify potential issues as early as possible.

Other countries Canada, European countries, Australia, etc.) are actively pursuing the goal of childhood identification of mental health problems - through a variety of approaches, including teen and parent education, and widespread availability of services to help people. Early research results suggest that many cases of mental illnesses could be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment at the first signs or symptoms of the disorders like schizophrenia. Most of these countries have universal healthcare - which means the people who need treatments, can get it. Whereas in the US, about 20% of the population (or approximately 46 million people) is without health insurance and can not afford the necessary psychological therapies or may find that the services covered by Medicaid do not meet their needs.

In theory, the idea of early identification and treatment of mental illness is a good thing. In practice, however, it will depend upon how it is implemented.


Suicide-Risk Tests for Teens Debated (Washington Post)

Some States Order Psychological Tests In Schools - American Health Line June 19th 2006.

Related Reading:

Australia Launches Major Program for Teen Mental Health

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy use expanding in England


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