Schools Could Do More on Youth Depression, Survey Says

September 21, 2004 2 min read

Although studies show that teenagers are at significant risk for developing depression and other mental-health conditions, few U.S. high schools have clearly defined procedures for identifying students with such problems and referring them for treatment, according to a recent survey.

When asked what percentage of their students who might need counseling or treatment actually receive those services, only 7 percent of high school “mental-health professionals” surveyed said all such students do, and 31 percent reported that most do. The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, released the findings last month.

The findings are based on a national survey of 725 high school and 515 middle school professionals described as “knowledgeable about the mental-health services in their schools.” Fully 89 percent of respondents were school counselors, psychologists, social workers, or nurses.

The margin of error for the high school component of the poll is 3.7 percentage points; for the middle school findings, it is 4.4 percentage points.

Only 34 percent of the high school staff members responding agreed that their schools had a “clearly defined and coordinated process for identifying students who may have a mental-health condition.” A clear majority, 61 percent, said that half or fewer than half of the students in their schools receive the services they need for their conditions.

Of the middle school staff members surveyed, 42 percent agreed that their schools had a good process for identifying students with mental-health problems, and 58 percent said that half or fewer than half of students receive needed treatment and services.

Libby K. Nealis, the director of public policy for the Bethesda, Md.-based National Association of School Psychologists, said the findings should aid her group’s efforts to convince schools of the need for comprehensive mental-health services.

“We have too many school mental-health professionals doing triage rather than a more proactive approach,” Ms. Nealis said.

“These services are being provided in schools with a focus on violence prevention and early identification, from the leadership on down,” she said. “But in places where the caseloads are high and there isn’t that focus, mental-health services fall through the cracks or they’re offered piecemeal.”

Further information is available at The Adolescent Risk Communication Institute.