screening for mental health risk factors for our kids

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."