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Panel: All Teens Should be Tested for Depression

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

One of the top government-appointed medical panels is urging doctors to routinely screen all U.S. teenagers for depression. It’s a bold stop that acknowledges that nearly 2 million teens are affected by depression.

The panel from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which sets guidelines for doctors on a host of health issues, said most are undiagnosed and untreated. The task is an independent panel of experts convened by the federal government to establish guidelines for treatment in primary-care. The recommendations are published in the April 2009 issue of Pediatrics. They go farther than the current recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics for teen depression screening.

An estimated 6 percent of American teenagers are clinically depressed. Evidence shows that detailed but simple questionnaires can accurately diagnose depression in primary-care settings such as a pediatrician’s office.

Because depression is so common, “you will miss a lot if you only screen high-risk groups,” said Dr. Ned Calonge, task force chairman and chief medical officer for Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

The task force said that when followed by treatment, including psychotherapy, screening can help improve symptoms and help kids cope. Because depression can lead to persistent sadness, social isolation, school problems and even suicide, screening to treat it early is crucial, the panel said.

The group recommends research-tested screening tests even for kids without symptoms. It cited two questionnaires that focus on depression tip-offs, such as mood, anxiety, appetite and substance abuse.

A separate report, released on the same day in Pediatrics says primary care doctors, including pediatricians and family physicians need to get more involved in mental health care.

That report is from the AAP and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The group says pediatricians should routinely consult with psychiatrists, including working in the same office when possible. And it says insurers should compensate pediatricians for any mental health services they provide.

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