The HEADS-ED: A rapid mental health screening tool for pediatric patients in the emergency department

Mario Cappelli, Clare Gray, Roger Zemek, Paula Cloutier, Allison Kennedy, Elizabeth Glennie, Guy Doucet, John S. Lyons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: The American Academy of Pediatrics called for action for improved screening of mental health issues in the emergency department (ED). We developed the rapid screening tool home, education, activities/peers, drugs/alcohol, suicidality, emotions/behavior, discharge resources (HEADS-ED), which is a modification of "HEADS," a mnemonic widely used to obtain a psychosocial history in adolescents. The reliability and validity of the tool and its potential for use as a screening measure are presented. METHODS: ED patients presenting with mental health concerns from March 1 to May 30, 2011 were included. Crisis intervention workers completed the HEADS-ED and the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths-Mental Health tool (CANS MH) and patients completed the Children's Depression Inventory (CDI). Interrater reliability was assessed by using a second HEADS-ED rater for 20% of the sample. RESULTS: A total of 313 patients were included, mean age was 14.3 (SD 2.63), and there were 182 females (58.1%). Interrater reliability was 0.785 (P < .001). Correlations were computed for each HEADS-ED category and items from the CANS MH and the CDI. Correlations ranged from r = 0.17, P < .05 to r = 0.89, P < .000. The HEADS-ED also predicted psychiatric consult and admission to inpatient psychiatry (sensitivity of 82% and a specificity of 87%; area under the receiver operator characteristic curve of 0.82, P < .01). CONCLUSIONS: The results provide evidence to support the psychometric properties of the HEADS-ED. The study shows promising results for use in ED decision-making for pediatric patients with mental health concerns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e321-e327
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Emergency department
  • Mental health
  • Psychosocial screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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