Screening programs fight teen suicide

TeenScreen Program does not involve treatment and is not affiliated with pharmaceutical companies.

I write in response to the Feb. 2 Daily editorial regarding mental-health screening programs for youths. Unfortunately, much of the editorial was inaccurate and seemingly misinformed, compelling me to respond and clarify important facts.

The Columbia University TeenScreen Program is a national mental health and suicide risk screening program that offers an opportunity for families and their teens to receive a voluntary mental health checkup. Parental consent and teen assent are required for participation, and a vast majority of TeenScreen Program sites around the country obtain active, written parental consent. TeenScreen Program is only a screening program and does not involve diagnosis or treatment as the editorial insinuated. Furthermore, it is not affiliated with or funded by any pharmaceutical companies. Instead, TeenScreen Program is funded by private philanthropic individuals and organizations that are committed to the early identification of mental illness in youths and the prevention of teen suicide.

In addition to the inaccurate information about the national TeenScreen Program noted above, the editorial contained misleading information about the results from a TeenScreen Program site in Tennessee. The 96 teens who went on to speak with a mental health professional did so as part of the screening process and were not referred to therapy as the editorial conveyed. TeenScreen Program uses a two-stage screening process to identify which youths are at risk and in need of a complete mental-health evaluation. In the first stage, teens complete a screening questionnaire. Those who score positive on the questionnaire are advanced to the second stage in which they are interviewed by a mental health professional to determine whether they are truly at risk and in need of further evaluation. The 96 teens referenced in your editorial simply received this second-stage screening interview.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens nationally. Ninety percent of youths who die by suicide suffer from a diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death, but most are not known to their parents, teachers or other adults as suffering from a mental disorder. In any other area of medicine, if the causes of 90 percent of the mortality associated with a particular illness were known, we would certainly implement widespread screening for the associated risk factors. Why shouldn’t we do the same to ensure the mental health of our youths? I strongly encourage anyone with questions regarding voluntary mental health checkups or the TeenScreen Program to visit, where complete and accurate information can be found.

  Leslie McGuire is director of the Columbia University TeenScreen Program. Please send comments to [email protected]