Pediatrics Call for Annual Depression Screening to Fight Teen Depression

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Feeling the blues or down in the dumps is not unusual for the average teenager. You probably experienced some teen angst of your own as you wrestled to find your identity through arts, sports, academics, faith, and countless other cultural branches.

In recent years, however, the rate of teen depression has drastically risen leaving government officials and medical experts unsure of how to control the wildfire epidemic.

According to a study in Biological Psychiatry, only about 50 percent of adolescents with depression receive a diagnosis before becoming adults. Moreover, around 66 percent of teenagers with depression receive legitimate and helpful treatment.[1]

Tackling Teen Depression: AAP Pushes for Yearly Depression Screening

In 2016, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 3,100,000 U.S. adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode.[2]

When you consider the number above – 50 percent – it’s not only alarming how common teenage depression is, but that there are still so many cases of teen depression that go unaddressed and unresolved.

Wishing to combat this mental health epidemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics have updated their Guideline for Adolescent Depression in Primary Care with an emphasis on universal screening for teen depression.[3]

“What we’re endorsing is that everyone, 12 and up, be screened… at least once a year,” says Dr. Rachel Zuckerbrot, a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist and associate professor at Columbia University.

Zuckerbrot maintains that it won’t be too formal; screenings could happen during a physical, check-up, or any other doctor visit. Pediatricians in favor of the depression screening hope it will help them be more open about their emotional health.

“Teenagers are often more honest when they’re not looking somebody in the face who’s asking questions,” Zuckerbrot says, alluding to the self-reported questionnaire teens can complete themselves digitally or on paper.

“It’s an opportunity for the adolescent to answer questions about themselves privately.”

The Updated Guidelines for Teenage Depression

A range of questions will be given to the adolescent as part of their depression screening and diagnosis, some of which include:[3]

  • Any problems with eating?
  • Do you have little interest or pleasure in doing things?
  • Over the past two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems: feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  • Are you having difficulty with sleep with too much or too little?

Parents, under the new recommendations, are encouraged to develop a safety plan that restricts a depressed teen’s access to items they can use to harm themselves.

No parent ever wants to prepare for such a thing but, according to a report from the AAP, suicide has rapidly grown to become a leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17, which “is strongly associated with firearm availability.”[4]

What Parents Think About the New Guidelines for Treating Teen Depression

From discreet cyber bullying to public school shootings, children and parents alike are growing more aware of the need for access to good, effective health care.

“As a nation, [teen depression and mental health have] become part of the dialogue,” says Dr. Doug Newton, a child psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.[5] “People are aware of what’s happening in our schools and the importance of mental health.”

Even though most parents would agree that good access to mental health care is of utmost importance, many are divided on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new guidelines for teenage depression.

The Pros of Universal Yearly Depression Screening, According to Parents

People’s emphasis on treating is becoming increasingly clear. For the most part, parents and other adults are on board with the universal depression screening so long as there’s an ongoing dialogue and treatment is not limited to prescription medications.

The Cons of Universal Yearly Depression Screening, According to Parents

Parents and other adults who are against universal depression screening for kids make it quite clear. Their emphasis seems to lie in the risks and dangers of drugs for depression. Some are also concerned with the “money over mental health” mindset and the fact that big pharma would make a ton of money from an influx of newly diagnosed adolescents.

Families, Please Grow Your Awareness

As Zuckerbrot highlights, “Sometimes teens are acting out or misbehaving,” Zuckerbrot says.[5] They’re seen as being hostile or bad. “When, instead, they’re really suffering from depression.”

We hope these extra resources and idea help you and those you know in preventing depression in teens.

[1] Kessler, R. C., Avenevoli, S., & Ries, K. (2001, June 15). Mood disorders in children and adolescents: an epidemiologic perspective. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from

[2] Major Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2018, from

[3] Zuckerbrot, R. A., MD, Cheung, A. H., MD, Jensen, P. S., MD, Stein, R. E., MD, & Laraque, D., MD. (n.d.). Guidelines for Adolescent Depression in Primary Care (GLAD-PC): I. Identification, Assessment, and Initial Management [PDF]. GLAD-PC Steering Group.

[4] Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention Executive Committee. (2012, November 01). Firearm-Related Injuries Affecting the Pediatric Population. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from

[5] Aubrey, A. (2018, February 26). Pediatricians Call for Universal Depression Screening for Teens. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from

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