A new study suggests routine mental health screening in high school can identify adolescents at risk for mental illness.

Authorities can then reach out and connect the identified adolescents with recommended follow-up care.

The study involved nearly 2,500 high school students and is the largest school-based study by the TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups at Columbia University.

Researchers report their findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Investigators studied six public high schools in suburban Wisconsin between 2005 and 2009. They discovered that nearly three out of four high school students identified as being at risk for having a mental health problem were not in treatment at the time of screening.

Of those students identified as at-risk, a significant majority (76.3 percent) completed at least one visit with a mental health provider within 90 days of screening. More than half (56.3 percent) received minimally adequate treatment, defined as having three or more visits with a provider, or any number of visits if termination was agreed to by the provider.

“It is gratifying to have further evidence that TeenScreen successfully connects at-risk adolescents with mental health care,” said Laurie Flynn, TeenScreen’s executive director.

“The value of school-based screening is reinforced by this study and highlights TeenScreen’s unique ability to help teens whose mental health problems would otherwise go unidentified,” said Leslie McGuire, M.S.W., TeenScreen’s deputy executive director, and an author of the paper.

The screening process included a computerized evidence-based questionnaire: the Diagnostic Predictive Scales-8, a self-report questionnaire that takes approximately 10 minutes to complete and is designed to identity depression, anxiety and several other mental health conditions.

After the screening, each student received a one-on-one debriefing. Those who scored positive were asked to stay for a second-stage clinical interview with a trained master’s level clinician, who provided further evaluation for possible referral to either school-based or community-based services.

Authorities believe screening for mental health disorders during adolescence will provide a vehicle to launch early detection and intervention as 50 percent of all lifetime mental health disorders start by age 14.

Untreated depression and other mental health problems can lead to school failure, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and criminal involvement.

Most tragically, untreated mental illness can lead to suicide – the third leading cause of death among adolescents.

Research has shown that most young people with mental illness can be effectively treated and lead productive lives.

Source: TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups at Columbia University