screening for mental health risk factors for our kids


Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 min­utes.

THE RED­MOND RE­PORTER is our local paper here in Red­mond, Wash­ington. It’s a typ­ical smalltown paper: twenty pages with local news and ad­ver­tise­ments. Un­for­tu­nately, I rarely pay any at­ten­tion to it, but yes­terday it was brought to my at­ten­tion by an ar­ticle on the front page of the Sep­tember 7, 2108, edition.

The ar­ticle was ti­tled “Uni­versal mental health screen­ings to be in­tro­duced in local middle schools.” This move is being coör­di­nated with Youth East­side Ser­vices (YES) in re­sponse to the local sui­cide rate among teens, which “has in­creased by about 18% in the last decade.” Un­like many com­mu­ni­ties, sub­stance abuse (a term too vague to pack a wallop) in our area has held steady during the same time.

YES will as­sist sev­eral school dis­tricts with a uni­versal screening of local middle school stu­dents for mental health and substance-use risk factors:

“Through the Best Starts for Kids ini­tia­tive, the Check Your­self Tool will begin screening sev­enth grade stu­dents for mental health and sub­stance use risk fac­tors in Bellevue School Dis­trict and Lake Wash­ington School Dis­trict middle schools. Other King County school dis­tricts are ei­ther con­sid­ering im­ple­menting it or are in some phase of im­ple­menting it in the future.”

As a rel­a­tively new grand­fa­ther, I’m in favor of the in­ten­tions of the above, but given that our school dis­tricts em­braced the ridicu­lous D.A.R.E. pro­gram and hung on to it for years after most of the country aban­doned it, I am trep­i­da­tious about things.


Screening: cartoon about the "black dog" of depression.

“We need to talk about the Black Dog in the room. The one that lurks in the dark cor­ners, doggedly gnawing away at some of our con­scious­ness. The one that snug­gles up coyly, shying away from the light, for fear of ex­po­sure and its at­ten­dant shame. The one whose power ac­cretes in the dark, and claims a life more often than you would like to be­lieve. The Black Dog’s name is De­pres­sion.” (Tree­house)

Try the impossible

Common is­sues with people of any age who tend to­ward sui­cide are de­pres­sion, loneliness—and here I mean lack of ac­tual phys­ical and so­cial con­tact with fellow human beings—and ever-present anxiety.

So my sug­ges­tion is to try the im­pos­sible: con­vince the par­ents in our so­ciety to with­hold all ac­cess to any­thing computer-related from their chil­dren until those chil­dren have reached voting age!

Let’s make it il­legal for Amer­i­cans under the age of 18 to use computers:

•  No home computers!
•  No lap­tops!
•  No video games!
•  No smart­phones!

And while we’re at it, no elec­tronic cal­cu­la­tors, either!

Not only will this be en­forced at home and in school, but po­lice will be able to make ar­rests of teens caught il­le­gally using com­puters. Hell, maybe it will stop them from shooting people.

Of course, I’m not holding my breath that any­thing I’ve sug­gested will ever come to fruition . . .


Screening: photo of teens focused on their smartphones and nothing else.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: I found the photo at the top of this page ac­com­pa­nying the ar­ticle “Less smart­phone time equals hap­pier teenager, study sug­gests” by Melissa Healy on The Los An­geles Times web­site. Here are the first few paragraphs:

“A pre­cip­i­tous drop in the hap­pi­ness, self-esteem and life sat­is­fac­tion of Amer­ican teens came as their own­er­ship of smart­phones rock­eted from zero to 73% and they de­voted an in­creasing share of their time online.

Co­in­ci­dence? New re­search sug­gests it is not.

In a study pub­lished Monday in the journal Emo­tion, psy­chol­o­gists from San Diego State Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Georgia used data on mood and media culled from roughly 1.1 mil­lion U.S. teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in hap­pi­ness and sat­is­fac­tion among U.S. teens sud­denly shifted course in 2012 and de­clined sharply over the next four years.”



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