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Anoka-Hennepin Schools May Start Depression Screenings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Minnesota's largest school district is discussing screening high school students for depression and anxiety in the classroom.

As part of a state grant to improve mental health services, Anoka-Hennepin schools could offer a screening as soon as next fall.

Dr. Nita Kumar, a mental health consultant for the district, said Friday that the idea is to get students to talk about something they may hide from their parents or not even understand what is happening.

Some students and adults in the area shared their thoughts.

"I think it is a good idea just to be able to see warning signs early and see if maybe there is something this person needs to let out," Stephanie Scheffler said.

Kumar said adolescents often have a harder time identifying when they are actually experiencing signs of depression.

"Mental health impacts overall health and school performance," Kumar said.

The school district is considering spending a $370,000 state grant on testing for depression in the classroom.

The form is the same one many doctors' offices provide, the PHQ9 form.

Kumar said with parents' permission, the patient health questionnaire would be given to 10th graders in health class.

Teachers would not score the questionnaire for privacy reasons. A health care professional would score them and make a recommendation based on the results.

"Developmentally, at that age kids are starting to take some more responsibility for their own health," she said.

Kumar calls it a chance to pick up on something students may not be sharing at school or at home.

"We are able to make sure they get adequate care as early as possible," Kumar said.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents in Minnesota after accidents.

Anoka-Hennepin schools garnered national attention after seven students took their own lives between September 2009 and May 2011.

Kumar said a health screening could be a significant step toward pointing students in a positive direction for years to come.

Twin Cities area doctors said about half the clinics in the Twin Cities area offer these same depression screening tests, but usually a parent has to ask for them after seeing some warning signs at home.

Kumar said about 800 schools in Minnesota have some sort of mental health partnership or help on site, but not usually as part of a class curriculum.

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