Leading mental health experts are calling for school children to be screened for risk of mental illnesses such as depression and have devised a test that reliably identifies those at high risk.
The test can be done on a computer and could be used to alert doctors and psychologists to intervene early, said Barbara Sahakian a professor of clinical neuropsychology at Britain’s Cambridge University.
Ian Goodyer, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who worked with Sahakian on a study published on Wednesday, said screening 11- to 12-year-old children could reveal those who have “low resilience” – putting them at higher risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression.
Mental health problems are common in young people. Some 10 percent of children aged between 5 and 16 in Britain are assessed as having a mental disorder of some kind.
Adolescence is also a critical period for the development of major depression – an illness that exacts a heavy toll on people and economies worldwide with patients unable to hold down jobs or needing repeated long stretches of time off work.
The World Health Organization says more than 350 million people worldwide have depression and predicts that by 2020, the disorder will rival heart disease as the illness with the highest global disease burden.
Sahakian said testing children at school age could help health authorities get in early and offer therapy to prevent people descending into more serious, hard to treat conditions.