Primary care practitioners are urged to screen patients for mental and substance use disorders to improve health outcomes for individuals and communities.
Untreated chronic disease is a major factor in the overall higher cost of care for people with mental and/or substance use disorders. The likelihood that someone seeking behavioral health care services will successfully complete a referral to a primary care facility is low in general but greatly improved within a single visit to a primary care facility. Primary care and specialty practitioners (such as cardiologists, oncologists, gerontologists, endocrinologists, and other health specialties in which patient care can be affected by behavioral health issues) are urged to screen patients for depression, drug and alcohol use, bipolar disorder, suicide risk, and anxiety disorders.
The Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) process can help providers in primary care and other health care settings to assess the severity of substance use, depression, and other behavioral health issues, and identify the appropriate level of treatment. Referral to treatment is a critical yet often overlooked component of the SBIRT process. It involves establishing a clear method of follow-up with patients identified as having a possible addiction or in need of specialized treatment for a mental health condition. It also involves helping patients overcome any economic, transportation, or other barriers to treatment.
Learn more about referring patients to treatment within the context of integrated health care.
Screening Tools by Age Group
The following are examples of behavioral health screening tools recommended for children:
- The Depression Scale (PDF | 100 KB), a 20-item questionnaire that focuses on how an individual may have felt or acted over the past week
- The Pediatric Symptom Checklist, a self-screening instrument used to identify cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems in children and adolescents
- The Anxiety Scale – 2000 (PDF | 138 KB), a self-administered tool used to assess anxiety symptoms. It also includes administration and scoring instructions.
The following is an example of a screening tool recommended for adolescents:
- GAIN-SS – 2007 (PDF | 566 KB), an evidence-based survey that identifies needs for further assessment in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and anger management for adolescents
Practitioners can access screening tools for use with adults at SAMHSA-HRSA CIHS.