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"The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." -- Sydney J. Harris

OUR OPINION: Mental health screening for youths needs to be priority

Le Center Leader Editorial
December 15, 2015

Mental health issues too often remain a hidden story, particularly in rural Minnesota, in which resources and health professionals are limited. For our children it becomes even more complex, but critically important that screenings are routinely done.

A recent state study revealed that only 40 percent of Minnesota teenagers are being screened for mental health conditions. The Minnesota Community Measurement and Minnesota Department of Health released the study, which considered two key health care issues: mental health condition screening for teenagers and obesity counseling for youths.

While results for nutrition counseling and physical activity recommendations for youths battling weight problems were solid, there was often a disconnect regarding mental health screening. And according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 21 percent of U.S. children ages 9 to 17 “have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment.”

Such contrasting data indicate a need to tie mental health screening with other adolescent health issues.

Consider this assessment from Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota: “Seventy-five percent of people with a mental health condition develop it by age 26. If we wait until they’re adults, we’ve waited too long.”

There is a need to reinforce and develop a better mental health professional network for adolescents, particularly in greater Minnesota and throughout rural America. As with any health issue, there’ll be a cost. But the cost of not addressing adolescent mental health issues is far higher.

Some health care providers are stepping up their focus on mental health screening for children and teenagers. The Mankato Clinic network, which includes the Daniels Health Center in St. Peter, was among the top 10 in southeastern Minnesota.

Such screenings have become common practice with the Mankato Clinic staff, with the state study showing statistics ranging from 74 to over 89 percent of their adolescent patients also being screened for mental health conditions.