Intended for healthcare professionals

Should we carry out mental health screening on schoolchildren?

(Published 24 September 2013)

Personal view: Bring in universal health mental health checks in schools

On bmj.com today, a visiting scholar at the Feinberg School of Medicine suggests that mental health screening is carried out in primary schools to enable early identification and potentially save money.

In a personal view, Dr Simon Williams agrees with a recent BMJ study which suggests that further research of cognitive behavioural therapy programmes in schools is required. He also believes that school is the most appropriate setting for the identification of mental health problems in younger children.

He says there are "great benefits to be had from the provision of routine mental health checks for all schoolchildren" and a "more standardised approach would be more equitable and effective".

He adds that physical checks in schools are already well-established, so "why not mental health checks?".

Around three quarters of adult mental disorders are extensions of juvenile disorders and if left untreated can lead to more serious problems in adulthood related to crime, unemployment and suicide.

Dr Williams believes that early interventions could "reduce many of the costs associated with adolescent and adult mental health problems" and can have beneficial effects in the areas of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide prevention.

Furthermore he says that a cost-effective universal screening programme would allow health services to identify children who are experiencing early signs of developing mental health problems, who could then be monitored and recommended for referral. He believes this will "reduce future lost work hours and the cost of adult mental healthcare".

Dr Williams concludes that offering routine mental health checks in schools is "one way to ensure that all children get equal access to resources for the prevention or early diagnosis of mental health problems".

Contact:
Simon Williams, Visiting Scholar, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, USA
Tel: +44 (0) 7455051562
Email: simonwilliams@northwestern.edu