New Freedom Commission
Model Program: Screening Program for Youth
Columbia University TeenScreen® Program
To ensure that all youth are offered a mental health check-up before graduating from high school. TeenScreen® identifies and refers for treatment those who are at risk for suicide or suffer from an untreated mental illness.
All youngsters in a school, with parental consent, are given a computer-based questionnaire that screens them for mental illnesses and suicide risk. At no charge, the Columbia University TeenScreen® Program provides consultation, screening materials, software, training, and technical assistance to qualifying schools and communities. In return, TeenScreen® partners are expected to screen at least 200 youth per year and ensure that a licensed mental health professional is on-site to give immediate counseling and referral services for youth at greatest risk. The Columbia TeenScreen® Program is a not-for-profit organization funded solely by foundations. When the program identifies youth needing treatment, their care is paid for depending on the family's health coverage.
The computer-based questionnaire used by TeenScreen® is a valid and reliable screening instrument.151 The vast majority of youth identified through the program as having already made a suicide attempt, or at risk for depression or suicidal thinking, are not in treatment.152 A follow-up study found that screening in high school identified more than 60% of students who, four to six years later, continued to have long-term, recurrent problems with depression and suicidal attempts.153
To bridge the gap between schools and local providers of mental health services. Another challenge is to ensure, in times of fiscal austerity, that schools devote a health professional to screening and referral.
How other organizations can adopt
The Columbia University TeenScreen® Program is pilot-testing a shorter questionnaire, which will be less costly and time-consuming for the school to administer. It is also trying to adapt the program to primary care settings.
Sites where implemented
69 sites (mostly middle schools and high schools) in 27 States