Declines in academic performance often precede declines in health and health behaviors, particularly among minority youth living in economically distressed communities. The social and economic burdens imposed on communities with high rates of mental illness could be alleviated if patients were diagnosed and treated in adolescence rather than adulthood. Many adolescents with behavioral health needs fail to seek early treatment due to lack of access to care, finances, or knowledge of available resources. School performance may be a valuable early indicator of children in need of critical health services, particularly behavioral health services. Currently, the ability to use academic data as a population health and surveillance tool is limited by a poor understanding of which measures are the most meaningful indicators of behavioral health needs. This one-year developmental study will support the creation of a novel risk indicator tool that links academic performance and health data to identify academic indicators of such behavioral health needs as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance abuse. The research team will facilitate system alignment as they collaborate with leaders from the education, health, and social services sectors to design a tool that could be implemented within the school district. Findings will contribute to early prevention strategies and foster cross-sector collaborations between education and health providers to help improve adolescent behavioral health services equity in under-resourced communities.
Sheryl Kataoka, MD, MS, and Rebecca Dudovitz, MD, MS, University of California, Los Angeles