Screening Methods and When to Use Them

  • Tamsin Newlove-DelgadoEmail author
  • Tamsin J. Ford
Living reference work entry
Part of the Mental Health and Illness Worldwide book series (MHIW)


In terms of child and adolescent mental health, screening can be conceptualized as identifying those young people who are at high risk of having a psychiatric disorder, due to having risk factors for the development of a disorder, and/or already having raised levels of psychopathology or experiencing psychiatric symptoms. The intention of screening should be to improve outcomes via prevention or early intervention. In child and adolescent psychiatry, there is often a significant window of time in which risk factors or early symptoms can be detected prior to the diagnosis of a full psychiatric disorder, making them suitable for screening.

Screening tools used in psychiatry are usually questionnaires or measures which have a threshold for determining whether or not a child is “screen-positive.” These tools can be used on an opportunistic basis or as part of a systematic program of targeted or universal screening – for example, in young offenders or school pupils. Those screening positive can then be referred for more comprehensive assessment.

However, no screening measures are completely accurate. Therefore, before deciding to use a tool in practice, it is important to consider whether it is validated for that population, the potential harms and benefits, and the impact of a false-negative or false-positive result. Finally, the decision to screen should also be influenced by how the result will inform management. It is potentially unethical to identify young people who may need further assessments and intervention, if the availability and/or effectiveness of these is limited.


Screening Test accuracy Universal screening Targeted screening 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Medicine and HealthUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • F Verhulst
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

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