BACKGROUND: While ethnic diversity is increasing in many Western countries, access to youth mental health care is generally lower among ethnic minority youth compared to majority youth. It is unlikely that this is explained by a lower prevalence of psychiatric disorders in minority children. Effective screening methods to detect psychiatric disorders in ethnic minority youth are important to offer timely interventions.
METHODS: School-based screening was carried out at primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands with the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) self report and teacher report. Additionally, internalizing and psychotic symptoms were assessed with the depressive, somatic and anxiety symptoms scales of the Social and Health Assessment (SAHA) and items derived from the Kiddie-Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia (K-SADS). Of 361 Moroccan-Dutch youths (ages 9 to 16 years) with complete screening data, 152 children were diagnostically assessed for psychiatric disorders using the K-SADS. The ability to screen for any psychiatric disorder, and specific externalizing or internalizing disorders was estimated for the SDQ, as well as for the SAHA and K-SADS scales.
RESULTS: Twenty cases with a psychiatric disorder were identified (13.2 %), thirteen of which with externalizing (8.6 %) and seven with internalizing (4.6 %) diagnoses. The SDQ predicted psychiatric disorders in Moroccan-Dutch youth with a good degree of accuracy, especially when the self report and teacher report were combined (AUC = 0.86, 95 % CI = 0.77-0.94). The SAHA scales improved identification of internalizing disorders. Psychotic experiences significantly predicted psychiatric disorders, but did not have additional discriminatory power as compared to screening instruments measuring non-psychotic psychiatric symptoms.
CONCLUSIONS: School-based screening for psychiatric disorders is effective in Moroccan-Dutch youth. We suggest routine screening with the SDQ self report and teacher report at schools, supplemented by the SAHA measuring internalizing symptoms, and offering accessible non-stigmatizing interventions at school to children scoring high on screening questionnaires. Further research should estimate (subgroup-specific) norms and optimal cut-offs points in larger groups for use in school-based screening methods.