Policy Statement on Mental Health Screening in Primary Care

Approved by Council July 2019

Background

Primary care providers serve as the first-line providers in pediatric health maintenance, disease prevention, assessment and management. Approximately 13-20% of youth and 19% of adults in the United States have a mental disorder. In the past 20 years, primary care clinics have experienced a significant increase in patients presenting for mental health concerns. Early detection of emotional and behavioral problems is an important step in preventing future mental health illnesses. Primary care providers are well positioned to identify, assess, and manage mental health concerns in youth; the need for this role is emphasized by limited mental health resources. Research supports the benefit of utilizing brief mental health screening tools to foster communication between parents, children and physicians, and to identify a subgroup of higher risk patients who need additional psychiatric evaluation. Potential barriers such as limited mental health knowledge and clinical skills, insufficient resources and referral mechanisms, and inadequate payment for the time and effort spent may challenge mental health screening in primary care.

Recommendations

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends:

  • Routine mental health screening in primary care to increase awareness, early recognition and early intervention for mental health problems in children and youth.
  • Comprehensive mental health education, resources and services be made available to patients, families, and clinicians.
  • Innovative collaboration between primary care and mental health clinicians to improve access to mental health services.

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The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry promotes the healthy development of children, adolescents, and families through advocacy, education, and research. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are the leading physician authority on children’s mental health.