Could Your Child Have a Mental Health Problem?

A simple questionnaire can help your doctor identify possible social and emotional issues.

A screening questionnaire called the Pediatric Symptom Checklist can help identify children ages 4-16 who are having major problems functioning in their daily life -- at home, at school, with friends, in their activities, or with their mood. The PSC, developed by two Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School clinician/researchers -- Michael S. Jellinek, M.D., professor of psychiatry and of pediatrics, and J. Michael Murphy, Ed.D., associate professor of psychology -- is completed by parents, often while they're in the pediatrician's waiting room. The score helps the doctor decide which children and families may need more attention regarding emotional or behavioral concerns. "It's used as a first step to alert the pediatrician that a problem may exist, rather than to make a specific diagnosis such as attention deficit disorder or depression," explains Dr. Murphy.

If the PSC does uncover a problem, the pediatrician spends a few extra minutes with the parent to get a better sense of what is going on. He can also refer the child to a mental health clinician for a more in-depth evaluation in order to make an actual diagnosis. So for that reason, never rely solely on the PSC score. Always use your judgment -- as well as that of your child's doctor and/or teacher, or mental health professional -- when deciding whether your child would benefit from further evaluation.

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