BACKGROUND: There is policy interest in the screening and treatment of mental health problems in young people who offend, but the value of such screening is not yet known.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the diagnostic test accuracy of screening measures for mental health problems in young people who offend; to evaluate the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of screening and treatment; to model estimates of cost; to assess the evidence base for screening against UK National Screening Committee criteria; and to identify future research priorities.
DATA SOURCES: In total, 25 electronic databases including MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE and The Cochrane Library were searched from inception until April 2011. Reverse citation searches of included studies were undertaken and reference list of included studies were examined.
REVIEW METHODS: Two reviewers independently examined titles and abstracts and extracted data from included studies using a standardised form. The inclusion criteria for the review were (1) population - young offenders (aged 10-21 years); (2) intervention/instrument - screening instruments for mental health problems, implementation of a screening programme or a psychological or pharmacological intervention as part of a clinical trial; (3) comparator - for diagnostic test accuracy studies, any standardised diagnostic interview; for trials, any comparator; (4) outcomes - details of diagnostic test accuracy, mental health outcomes over the short or longer term or measurement of cost data; and (5) study design - for diagnostic test accuracy studies, any design; for screening programmes, randomised controlled trials or controlled trials; for clinical effectiveness studies, randomised controlled trials; for economic studies, economic evaluations of screening strategies or interventions.
RESULTS: Of 13,580 studies identified, nine, including eight independent samples, met the inclusion criteria for the diagnostic test accuracy and validity of screening measures review. Screening accuracy was typically modest. No studies examined the clinical effectiveness of screening, although 10 studies were identified that examined the clinical effectiveness of interventions for mental health problems. There were too few studies to make firm conclusions about the clinical effectiveness of treatments in this population. No studies met the inclusion criteria for the assessment of the cost-effectiveness of screening or treatment. An exemplar decision model was developed for depression, which identified a number of the likely key drivers of uncertainty, including the prevalence of unidentified mental health problems, the severity of mental health problems and their relationship to generic measures of outcome and the impact of treatment on recidivism. The information evaluated as part of the review was relevant to five of the UK National Screening Committee criteria. On the basis of the above results, none of the five criteria was met.
LIMITATIONS: The conclusions of the review are based on limited evidence. Conclusions are tentative and the decision model should be treated as an exemplar.
CONCLUSIONS: Evidence on the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of screening for mental health problems in young people who offend is currently lacking. Future research should consider feasibility trials of clinical interventions to establish important parameters ahead of conducting definitive trials. Future diagnostic studies should compare the diagnostic test accuracy of a range of screening instruments, including those recommended for use in the UK in this population. These studies should be designed to reduce the decision uncertainty identified by the exemplar decision model.
REGISTRATION: This study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42011001466.
FUNDING: The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.