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MNAAP Newsletter

Screening for Mental Health Problems with the PSC-17 Tool

By Calla R. Brown, MD, Tom Scott, MD, and Iris W. Borowsky, MD, PhD

Mental health conditions are prevalent in the pediatric population, and identification and treatment at an early age can lead to improved long-term outcomes. Primary care clinics have long been promoted by the Bright Futures Guidelines for Health Supervision as the optimal site of screening for mental health conditions in the pediatric population given pediatricians’ sustained contact with children and families.

Diagnosis of mental health conditions in children through improved screening rates has been identified by the Minnesota Department of Health as a core measure in pediatrics, and there are several tools available to the general pediatrician for screening. This Minnesota goal is in line with national objectives to increase screening and treatment for mental health conditions, and Healthy People 2020 includes specific screening and treatment goals for depression in adolescents.


One of the most widely used and validated screening tools is the Pediatric Symptom Checklist-17 (PSC-17). While this tool is recommended in the state of Minnesota as a screening questionnaire for psychosocial problems in the pediatric population, screening rates for mental health conditions across the state as reported by the Minnesota Department of Health currently average around forty percent.

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