Data need to be accurate when screening for depression in teenagers

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7521.906 (Published 13 October 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:906
  1. Joan McClusky (jmcclusky{at}medimedia.com), medical writer
  1. New York, NY 10003, USA

    EDITOR—With reference to Lenzer's news article,1 one of the problems with promotion of universal mental health screening of children—and a good reason for many people's suspicions of another agenda—is the often inflated numbers cited. For example, the TeenScreen website notes that one in 10 American children and adolescents experience mental illness and impairment, but only one in five receives treatment.2 The source cited is a US Surgeon General's report from 2001—in support of a “National Action Agenda on Children's Mental Health.”3

    Yet the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in 2001-3, 5% of American children aged 4-17 had emotional or behavioural difficulties, based on over 10 000 national health interview surveys. The CDC also reports that these difficulties had an impact on functioning in 80%—in other words, 4% of the total, substantially lower than the 10% cited by TeenScreen and perhaps not the “public crisis in mental health for children and adolescents” that the Surgeon General's report claimed.3 4

    The CDC also reports that in 2003, 65% of children aged 4-17 with emotional or behavioural difficulties received some type of mental health service for their problem, with 45% receiving help from a mental health professional and 40% from a general physician.5 Again, this is substantially different from the 20% treatment rate cited by TeenScreen.2


    • Competing interests None declared.


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