According to Mental Health America, rates of youth severe depression increased from 5.9 percent in 2012 to 8.2 percent in 2015, and 76 percent of these young people get no or insufficient treatment. Complications from untreated depression may include school absenteeism, discord with peers, strained family relationships, emotional distress, lower grades, increased risk for drug and alcohol use, and possibly, suicide. Parents may be unsure of where to turn if they sense something is wrong. How do you know if your child is having problems? What should you do?
Toni’s* parents noticed her moods were shifting, and she wasn’t as carefree as usual. She preferred time alone, away from family activities and friends. She maintained her grades, but homework was more like a chore, and Toni wasn’t interested in school activities that usually were fun. When her parents asked, Toni said, “I’m fine. I’ll get through it.”
Toni’s parents called Outreach Teen & Family Services and shared their concerns. Unsure if counseling was necessary, they requested a screening for depression. Outreach uses TeenScreen, a tool to identify depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. Created by Columbia University, now housed at Stanford, TeenScreen assesses the mental health of children ages 12-18, who answer a series of questions on a computer, after which a counselor conducts a brief assessment and assists them in connecting with services if needed.
After Toni and her parents reviewed and signed the consent forms, Toni participated in the self-guided questionnaire. The screen presents symptom areas such as social phobia, anxiety, depression, substance use, and impairment (i.e., how are these symptoms affecting me?). A counselor reviewed Toni’s responses and asked her some questions to clarify and gain further insight into Toni’s feelings. It appeared she was struggling in the new school year, found her school work to be overwhelming and hadn’t figured out how to balance school and activities. She talked about missing a close friend who moved away over the summer. She felt like she had fallen into a rut. Based on Toni’s clinical interview and responses given, it appeared she was experiencing mild depression. The counselor explained this to Toni, then met with her parents and walked them through the process and discussed the results.
The counselor recommended that Toni meet with a therapist for a few sessions to learn some coping skills regarding the grief associated with the loss of her friend, as well as time management for school and recreational activities. The family agreed with the counselor’s assessment and decided to try a few counseling sessions.
By using TeenScreen, Toni’s issues were clearly identified and she was linked to services before they became more of a problem. Screening is a safe and effective method of early identification of problems. At Outreach, we believe that mental health check-ups should become as routine as hearing and eye exams.
TeenScreen is offered at Mt. Lebanon High School and at both Mellon and Jefferson Middle Schools. The screen is also available year-round at the Outreach office.
*Toni represents a typical Outreach patient. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect patient anonymity.
Outreach Teen & Family Services  is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families that are affordable, accessible and discreet, all within a welcoming, supportive environment.