Erin Dowdy, Michael Furlong, and Jill Sharkey publish article about why youth surveys need to include mental health content

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Erin Dowdy, Michael Furlong, and Jill Sharkey, all faculty members in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology of UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School, have published the article “Using Surveillance of Mental Health to Increase Understanding of Youth Involvement in High-Risk Behaviors: A Value-Added Analysis” in the March 2013 Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. The study, which examined over 3000 eighth-through-twelfth graders, was the first ever to co-administer a mental health screener with a youth surveillance survey. The authors claim, “Results highlight how the addition of mental health content could provide more precise information about the complexity of co-occurring disorders [such as alcohol and substance abuse with depression or self-esteem issues] that youth are experiencing. This information can be used at the national level to inform policy changes and also at the local community level to provide information on how to target resources for maximum benefit.”

The paper clearly suggests the value of a broader-based approach in indentifying and helping at-risk youth. By adding mental health questions to surveillance surveys, and examining that data, it might help prevent the current “what gets measured gets done” system in which interventions may be necessarily tailored to the areas most frequently studied, such as negative behaviors like substance abuse. Adding mental health and psychological well-being content to surveillance surveys will also help prevent “a silo approach to setting public policies related to addressing the needs of youth who engage in high-risk behaviors.”

The full article can be read on-line.

[Erin Dowdy, Michael Furlong, and Jill Sharkey are available for interviews; contact George Yatchisin at 805 893 5789]