By Narrelle Gilchrist
October 24th, 2014. A freshman student at Marysville-Pilchuck High School shoots five students in the cafeteria, killing four, and then shoots himself. June 10th, 2014. In Oregon, a fifteen year-old student kills a fourteen year-old friend, before taking his own life. October 21st, 2013. A teacher is killed and two students are injured at Sparks Middle School when a twelve year-old student opens fire.
The victims of these shootings were casualties of mental illness, by-products of the mental conditions of disturbed teenagers. So many of these incidents could have been prevented if these students had simply received the help and treatment they needed. Psychological conditions have had a drastic effect on thousands of students today, but with a routine screening, these conditions can be properly detected and treated. To work towards solving this national crisis, all students should be required to be periodically tested for mental illness. Today, psychological conditions are a major issue for children and adolescents.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20% of adolescents suffer or have suffered from a mental illness. These illnesses include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Approximately 4,600 youth, suffering from mental illness, take their own lives every year, making suicide the 3rd leading cause for death among teens. In a nationwide CDC survey, 16% of the students surveyed had contemplated suicide, and 8% had attempted to take their own life. Suicide should not be such a dominant part of children’s lives. Even more horrifying, several times a year, when a student decides to resort to violence, one student’s mental illness has had serious repercussions for his or her classmates. Violence should not be such a dominant part of students’ lives either.
The majority of mental illness goes undetected and untreated. Routine screening can change that. Once students, parents, and teachers know that a mental condition is present, they can work together to resolve the issue, before it gets out of hand. In a discussion with the New England Journal of Medicine, Courtney, a 15 year-old student, told of how a mental health-screening program in her school helped her recognize her illness and get help. Before the screening, she says, “I was afraid to say anything… Teenagers have a tough time asking for help. Without the screening, I’m not sure I would have gotten the help I needed.” Routine screening for psychological conditions would be no different than the physical that is required before entering school. Critics may argue that requiring these screenings would be a violation of privacy rights and unaffordable expense, but psychological screenings can simply be made part of a routine physical by a pediatrician.
Just as students are required to demonstrate their vaccination records, they should be required to display a clean bill of mental health. Psychological conditions among adolescents are a national issue, as more teenagers commit suicide or resort to violence every day. Routine screenings are a necessary investment in our children’s health and security. They can save hundreds of teenage lives, one at a time, by allowing teenagers to get the help and treatment they need. Because this is an issue that is getting worse by the day, we must take action now. Requiring routine screenings will ensure that no teenager will ever feel alone in the face of his or her problems, and that the nightmare of student shootings will never happen again.
Friedman, Richard A. “Uncovering an Epidemic – Screening for Mental Illness in Teens.” The New England Journal of Medicine. December 28th, 2006. March 26th, 2015. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmp068262
“Mental Disorders.” Teen Mental Health. March 29th, 2015 http://teenmentalhealth.org/learn/mental-disorders/
“National Survey Confirms that Youth Are Disproportionately Affected by Mental Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health. September 27th, 2010. March 26th, 2015. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2010/national-survey-confirms-that-youth-are-disproportionately-affected-by-mental-disorders.shtml
“Suicide Prevention.” CDC. March 10th, 2015. March 26th, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html
“U.S. School Violence Fast Facts.” CNN. December 12th, 2014. March 26th, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/19/us/u-s-school-violence-fast-facts/
Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics.