TeenScreen, a mental health program for high school students that raised privacy concerns among parents, will close Friday after 13 years of screening teenagers for suicide and other behavioral risks.
Hundreds of thousands of teenagers filled out mental health questionnaires through the TeenScreen program, which was developed at Columbia University and based in New York City. The program was endorsed by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, received federal grant money and became a model for other behavioral screening programs.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An average of 21 people under the age of 25 kill themselves each year in the St. Louis area.
Critics, including the Church of Scientology, contended that TeenScreen program was inaccurate and targeted teenagers for psychiatric drug prescriptions. Administrators countered that the program was not supported by pharmaceutical companies and was based on scientific research into suicide risk factors.
TeenScreen officials did not respond to requests for comment.
“We are proud of our accomplishments and grateful to the schools, communities and health care providers that joined with us in these efforts,” reads a blog post on the program’s website.
The first TeenScreen program in Missouri started in 2002. By 2010, 10 doctors and three schools or community centers offered the free program. Through the program, 475 teenagers in the state received mental health screenings from 2005 to 2010. Nearly 1,500 were screened in Illinois in 14 schools over the same time period.
In 2005, parents in Indiana filed a lawsuit against TeenScreen. At that time, Pattonville School District was the only Missouri district using the program. Pattonville then changed its permission process so parents had to agree for their children to be screened. The number of students participating dropped, and the district stopped using the program this year.
Pattonville now uses a suicide prevention program called Let’s Talk About It, where trained counselors work with ninth grade health classes as part of the curriculum, according to Donette Green, assistant superintendent of special services.