Identifying Depression

Developmental Pathways Depression Screening Program

Study Goals

The Developmental Pathways Transition Project is a school-based depression screening program that was designed in conjunction with the epidemiological and preventive intervention studies. The goals of the project include to:

1. Conduct universal classroom depression screening to identify students who are experiencing emotional distress.
2. Provide an onsite clinical evaluation for all students who screen positive.
3. Give suggestions to students and parents of distressed students for academic, social, and mental health resources, as needed.
4. Promote early intervention to help ensure academic success.
Study Design

The Developmental Pathways Transition Project has been carried out each fall since 2005. Universal emotional health screening is conducted using a standardized questionnaire that asks students about the presence of recent symptoms of depression and disruptive behavior. The project targets students who are making the transition from elementary school to middle school. Child mental health professionals trained by DP investigators follow-up by conducting brief one-on-one clinical evaluations of high scoring students on site at school. Parents of students who are found to be highly distressed and in need of support are notified, and motivational interviewing techniques are used to deliver feedback and suggestions for additional supports. Parents are encouraged to link students to academic tutors, school counselors, after school programs, and school or community-based mental health services, as needed. Follow-up research has shown that within 6 weeks, 71% of students for whom service recommendations are given are linked to the recommended services.

As of 2009, the project had screened over 5,650 students in Seattle Public Middle Schools and provided clinical follow-up to 950 students who screened positive for emotional distress. In 2005 we received funding from the AETNA Foundation which is interested in supporting programs that reduce racial disparities in access to health care. Over the past four years we have also received funding from a local donor. The screening program has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and on King 5 TV’s Health Watch. We are developing a research proposal to the NIMH to conduct a randomized controlled trial to evaluate our screening program to ensure that 1) students are being successfully linked to the services and supports and 2) our program facilitates reduction in emotional distress, healthy adjustment to middle school, and academic success.
In spring of 2011 we submitted a grant proposal to the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of the effect of participation in the Developmental Pathways Transition Project on emotional health, linkage to support, and academic performance in middle school students in Seattle Public Schools. The proposal, entitled “Randomized Trial of the Emotional Health Check-up at the Transition to Middle School,” will be reviewed this fall.