Mental health checks for primary school pupils could prevent more serious issues arising later on, an academic has argued.
Simon Nicholas Williams from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Public Health called for the introduction of standardised mental health screenings in schools, along similar lines to physical health monitoring systems already in place.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, he noted that three quarters of adult mental disorders are extensions of juvenile disorders, which if left untreated can later result in more serious social and economic problems related to crime, unemployment, and suicide.
Dr Williams said diagnostic aides could be administered in schools by either counsellors or trained specialists in order to determine which children may need more in-depth investigation and possibly treatment.
He estimated such a screening programme for all children aged seven years old would cost less than £18.5 million, when mental health problems currently cost the UK an estimated £105 billion per year.
Furthermore, he advocated making the screening programme universal, in order to avoid stigmatisation, adding that some disorders are at least as common in children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds as their less well-off counterparts.
Dr Williams concluded: "Offering routine mental health checks in schools is one way to ensure that all children get equal access to resources for the prevention or early diagnosis of mental health problems.
"The next step should be a trial to pilot and evaluate the short term outcomes of a routine mental health check in UK schools."
Commenting on these proposals, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby told BBC News he believed schools "should be checking children for much more than whether they have mastered phonics".
However, he argued existing staff in education jobs were not qualified to undertake mental health screenings, which would therefore have to be conducted by health professionals, and that checks would need to be handled sensitively.
Back in July, mental health charity MindFull published survey findings showing that one in five of 2,000 young adults polled had shown signs of depression before they turned 16.
Furthermore, the Children's Society's 'Good Childhood Report 2013' has suggested improvements in child wellbeing have stalled since 2008 and may have even now gone into reverse.
Posted by Tim Colman