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Iowa Valley students participate in mental health screening this week

By NICK NARIGON

Students in the Iowa Valley Junior-Senior High School began taking a different kind of test this week.

Over 100 students signed up to take the Teen Screen Diagnostic Predictive Scales test (DPS), said IV guidance counselor Karla Robison. This is the first year the program has been offered at Iowa Valley.

TeenScreen is a national mental health and suicide risk screening program for young people. Students take a computerized questionnaire that poses questions to students about depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, substance abuse and health problems. It is currently used in 65 areas throughout Iowa to help identify students potentially afflicted by illness.

“This is a mental health wellness check,” Robision said. “The ultimate goal is to make sure kids are healthy and safe and aware of some of these symptoms. The goal is also to make them aware of who they can talk to and where they can go.”

Robison said the test is also helpful for parents to be reassured that their teenager is just experiencing typical “growing pains.”

“It is helpful for any parent to know what normal behavior is for teens,” Robison said.

For other parents, TeenScreen can help them pinpoint a problem in its early stages, giving parents the ability to secure needed help for a child and reduce the chance that a more significant problem will develop in the future, she said.

Iowa Valley students in grades 7-11 began taking the test Monday, Feb. 8. The test is completely voluntary on the student’s part and only students who have parental consent may answer the questionnaire.

The assessment, which will be conducted over computer, is designed with student privacy in mind. First, students will complete a 10-minute questionnaire about vision, hearing and dental problems, symptoms of depression and anxiety, suicidal thinking and behavior and use of drugs and alcohol.

Teens whose answers reveal a potential problem and teens who ask for help then meet with a trained mental health professional in private to determine if further evaluation would be helpful. Test results are processed by Grant Wood Area Education Agency employees who are trained to evaluate the assessment.

Parents will be contacted by program staff only if the student meets with a mental health professional and the professional recommends further evaluation.

The TeenScreen program and staff do not make any treatment recommendations. All possible treatment decisions are made by families in close consultation with a health professional of the family’s choice after the completion of the TeenScreen program.

Students will not be diagnosed, but may be referred to healthcare professionals in the area, depending on the student’s assessed risk.

Teen Screen is free to both students and schools. It is funded by private foundations, individuals and organizations concerned about mental illness in adolescent.

Robison said depending on the success of this year’s pilot program, Iowa Valley may continue the TeenScreen program next year.

DEPRESSION FACTS

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 11- to 18-year-olds in Iowa, according to teenscreen.org. Nationally, itís the third most common cause of death for 11- to 18-year-olds.

Signs of depression can include a sad or depressed mood, apathy toward activities once found enjoyable and increased irritability. Teens with depression may feel hopeless or bad about themselves, have suicidal thoughts, have trouble concentrating in class, sleep more or much less than usual or have a reduced appetite, according to teenscreen.org.

Untreated teen depression can result in withdrawal from peers and social activities, greater stresses on family relationships, missed school days, decreased performance in school and greater risk toward alcoholism and drug use.

For more information, call Karla Robison at (319) 642-332 or visit teenscreen.org.

UPDATED February 10, 2010 1:10 PM

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