Children’s Hospital Los Angeles researchers have started testing out an ER screening tool that can identify adolescent mental health issues, using the tool on adolescents who come to the emergency room with medical problems that could be caused by or linked to mental health problems as well. The study involved 992 ER patients who were adolescents, and 47.5% or close to half of the patients gave a yes answer to key identifying questions concerning behavioral symptoms, substance abuse, and exposure to trauma. Studies have shown that one in 10 adolescents will suffer from some type of mental illness, but only about half of these adolescents will receive any type of mental health services. In some cases chronic medical conditions can be caused by mental illness which is undiagnosed.
The ER screening tool for adolescent mental health issues may allow ER physicians to determine whether mental illness plays a role in the medical complaints of younger patients. According to the first study author, Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles director Alan L. Nager, M.D., M.H.A. “Based on recommendations from organizations, literature and research, it is becoming clear that identifying mental health needs is part of quality medical care. The emergency department is the ideal place for that assessment to occur.” Another author on the study, Children’s Outcomes, Research and Evaluation program at CHLA director Jeffrey I. Gold, Ph.D. explained “By embedding mental health screening in the emergency department, we are making it part of our health care culture —reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems and providing the opportunity for early identification and treatment for all children.”