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Routine mental health screening in schools could help 1 in 10 children with issues

10-20% of children and young people would benefit from some sort of mental health intervention.

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A NEW STUDY published in The Lancet finds that schools are key to reaching children who are suffering from mental health problems.

Dr Mina Fazel, a child psychiatrist at the University of Oxford in the UK revealed in her research that 10-20% of children and young people across the globe would benefit from some sort of mental health intervention.

She said that childhood is an important window for intervention because around 75% of adults who access mental health services have had a diagnosable disorder before the age of 18.

Mental health issues

It is also estimated from high-income countries that only 25% of children with a mental health problem get identified or treated.

She said that while routine mental health screening in schools is controversial, with concerns raised about the labelling and stigmatising of young people, Dr Fazel disagrees, stating:

If 10% of children had diabetes, we wouldn’t be saying that screening was a bad thing. Schools provide a platform to access large proportions of young people, and the vast majority of children picked up by screening would not need complex interventions.

Dr Fazel said that while mental illness often starts in adolescence it doesn’t end in adolescence as it is a life-long disorder.

Role of schools 

She argues that it is essential to find innovative ways to approach treatment and to reach young people to maximise their academic, emotional, and social development, adding that schools are where children spend much of their time.

The prevalence of psychiatric disorders vary with age, finds the report, which states that separation anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder are seen mainly in primary school children aged 4-10, while generalised anxiety disorder, conduct disorder and depression are more common in secondary school children aged 11-18.

The report also finds that eating disorders and psychosis starts to increase rapidly from mid adolescences onwards.

Untreated

“The most common disorders in school children are behavioural disorders and anxiety, with depression becoming common in the later years of secondary school. Untreated depression and other mental health problems affect many different aspects of a young person’s development and can lead to school failure and non-attendance as well as affecting long-term career choices and relationships,” she said.

She said that national policies to help education and mental health services work more closely together need to be developed, stating that any approach must be “child focused”.

Read: ‘Upbeat’ radio station aims to start positive conversation about mental health>

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