From everything that's been reported so far about Jared Loughner, there's little indication that any of his often erratic or troubling behavior – being fired from several jobs, turned down for military service, or incidents at his junior college that led to him being kicked off campus – sparked any formal attempt to evaluate his mental stability.
But a medical researcher at Northwestern University says that shouldn't be the case and that all college students should be screened for depression when they visit a university health center, even if it's just for the common cold.
“Depression screening is easy to do,” Michael Fleming, a professor of family and community medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, told ScienceDaily. “We know it works, and it can save lives.”
Fleming recently completed a study screening for depression in students who visit campus medical centers for routine care. He found that one out of every four or five students who go to their school health care providers are depressed, but that most schools don't know this because they don't look for it.
Flemming calls it a missed opportunity.
“If we screen, we can try to find every student that is depressed,” he has said.
The process for screening students, argues Fleming, is simple. He says that students could answer a short, seven-question mental health form that campus doctors could then immediately enter into the student's electronic health record.
The form would only take about a minute to fill out and could go a long way to helping students in need get mental health help. The university doctor or nurse could talk to students who say they're sad or depressed, says Fleming, and could give students a referral for mental health treatment.
As for those who argue that students would just lie on the form, Fleming has said that his study shows that, “Students will tell you the truth. If they are sad and depressed, they will tell you that.”
Whether a plan such as this would have effected Loughner is impossible to know. And of course an idea such as Fleming's would need to be weighed against students' desires not to have to fill out any more annoying paperwork, but still, at a time when the country seems to be searching for answers and solutions, there could be something to it.