Students Screened For Depression are Twice as Likely To Be Treated

Universal school-based depression screening shows promise addressing mental health conditions in students.

Students who participated in a universal school-based depression screening were twice as likely to begin treatment than those who did not receive the screening, according to the results of a study by Penn State College of Medicine.

“Our study is publishing at a time when more adolescents are reporting symptoms of depression,” Deepa Sekhar, MD, a pediatrician at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital and executive director of Penn State PRO Wellness, said in a press release. “During the pandemic, concerns about increasing student depression have been widespread. Suicides, which are often associated with mental health conditions, are now the second-leading cause of adolescent death.”

Investigators discovered that universal school-based screening for depressive symptoms increased identification and treatment initiation.

They also found greater identification of depressive symptoms among females and minority students, though these groups did not have greater treatment initiation.

In each school, 2 of the 4 grade levels were randomly assigned to be screened for depression symptoms through established questionnaires. The other student cohorts went through the school year as usual, receiving screening and support through a state-mandated student assistance program only if they were flagged based on concerning behavior.

Sekhar said that since most individuals are enrolled in public education, screening in schools can be an effective approach to identifying depressive systems. Currently, schools conduct vision and hearing screening to identify barriers to student academic success.

In the 3-year study published in JAMA Network Open, investigators gathered data on more than 12,000 students from 14 public high schools in Pennsylvania in grades 9 through 12. The students were predominantly minority, from urban and rural districts, and many were from low socioeconomical backgrounds.

“We want to focus next on what school districts, nationally, need to implement a universal screening program. We know support from administrators will be key, along with clear policies and procedures for screening and follow-up,” Sekhar said in the statement.

Reference

School-based screening increases identification of, treatment for depression. EurekAlert. News release. November 5, 2021. Accessed November 5, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/933849