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Danger Signs

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Is teen suicide preventable? David Shaffer, a psychiatrist and founder of the mental health questionnaire called TeenScreen, thinks so. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is now the third-leading cause of death in teenagers. In this New York Times Idea Lab feature, Paul Raeburn describes how TeenScreen identifies those who may be likely to commit suicide — and articulates the pitfalls of using such detection and intervention mechanisms in schools.

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Raeburn's article was slanted in the direction of drugging children. He's got experience with that.

New York Tims
Published: December 18, 2005
Danger Signs

This questionnaire is trawling for mental illness. Here are some questions taken directly from TeenScreen: Has there been a time when nothing was fun for you and you just weren't interested in anything? Has there been a time when you felt you couldn't do anything well or that you weren't as good-looking or as smart as other people? Have you often felt very nervous when you've had to do things in front of people?
If I had been asked these questions in high school, I might have answered yes to all of them, which might have triggered a mental-health evaluation.
Laurie Yorke
Clark, N.J.

I would suggest that a test like TeenScreen would not have a positive effect and might even do harm by giving a false sense of taking care of the problem (Paul Raeburn, Dec. 4). Having worked for nearly 30 years in a high school and more as a social worker, I would propose that the greatest safeguards that can be put into schools are the people who work there: teachers, administrators and all other support staff, including bus drivers and food servers and the traditional helpers like guidance counselors and social workers. These people get to know the children in school very well and in a different way from the families with whom they live. Suicide prevention is best achieved not by a test but by a school that incorporates a sense of power and trust in its community. No test will ever accomplish what a tuned-in community can.
David J. Jones
Greenlawn, N.Y.

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