Nip mental health problems in the bud

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A new assessment may help get mental health help to students. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia developed a student version of the Social, Academic and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS). They had middle and high school students complete the instrument to self-identify their mental state.

The student version is available through Fastbridge Learning, a software company that works with schools to offer online academic and behavioral screening, as well as other assessment services.

In lower grades, students have only one teacher, so it is easier to see problems developing. In higher grades, students have different teachers for each different subject, so changes in behavior can’t be observed as readily. While families may not have the resources to access preventative services, schools usually do.

I can see a few problems with this approach. Will the students answer the questions honestly? And if they do, will this somehow stigmatize them in the eyes of teachers and administrators?

Still, if even one potential tragedy is avoided, this seems worthwhile to me.

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Let’s get physical

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Given the mental health crisis in the US, it seems to me that any and all avenues that can alleviate people’s problems should be acted upon. Right now.

A study  done at Michigan State University asked patients with depression about physical exercise. A whopping 85% said they wanted to exercise more, and nearly that many said they believed exercise improved their moods much of the time. About half were at least interested in a one time discussion with many wanting ongoing advice about physical activity from their mental health provider.

The hitch is that most psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners don’t have expertise in exercise. They may mention it, but they don’t help the client set up a program or keep after them to be active. Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry at U-M, suggests mental health clinics partner with personal trainers or community recreational facilities. She says once the effectiveness was established, maybe insurers would get on board.

But why wait? Surely even individual counselors and therapists can find a trainer or nearby YMCA to work with clients without charging prohibitive fees. How much is it costing society NOT to do this?