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New Guidelines: All Teens Should be Screened for Depression


Depression among adolescents is common and has been increasing in recent years. About one in five teens will experience depression by the time they reach 20. The rates of depression are higher among female adolescents than males and higher among older teens than younger.(1)

Only about half of teens with depression are diagnosed before they reach adulthood. (2) Among those who are diagnosed, only about 41 percent received treatment.(1)


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has established new guidelines to help primary care clinicians to identify and treat adolescents with depression. The guidelines call for screening all teens and young adults age 12 to 21 for depression using a formal self-report screening tool. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) also calls for universal depression screening in teenagers ages 12 to 18 years. Because depression can persist into adulthood, identifying and treating it early can prevent problems later in life.

Depression may not appear just as sadness, and different people experience different symptoms and feelings. Some possible signs of depression include withdrawing from friends, losing interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, being frequently and easily irritable, having little energy and feeling tired all the time, and having frequent complaints of physical problems. Other signs include sadness, hopelessness, problems with sleep (too much or trouble sleeping), trouble concentrating or focusing, and increased or decreased appetite (weight gain or loss).

The AAP guidelines also recommend that teens with at higher risk of depression should be regularly monitored for depression. Depression risk factors can include a history of previous depressive episodes, a family history, other psychiatric disorders, substance use, trauma and frequent complaints of physical problems.

Screening is only the first step to making a diagnosis, the guidelines note. A positive screening result is not a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Screening should be followed up a by a full assessment, including clinical interviews, assessment of how daily life is impacted (school, home, social and recreational activities) and information from parents or other as appropriate.

The guidelines encourage primary care clinicians to establish collaborations with mental health resources in the community, including teens and families who have dealt with adolescent depression and are willing to serve as a resource for other teens and families. The critical role of schools is also addressed, and the guidelines suggest that primary care providers should work with the family to set up appropriate support in school when needed.

Several basic online depression screening tools are available including

If you’re concerned about yourself or a family member, talk to your doctor or mental health provider.



DepressionPatients and Families


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