Teens’ Depression May Need Time to Improve

Mental health issues often surface during adolescence. Experts believe that disorders like anxiety, depression and eating disorders may develop during this period because of the major hormonal and other biological changes occurring in the body.

As a result, screenings are often implemented into routine primary care appointments to determine whether teens may be experiencing the development of a mental health problem. Simple questions can assess whether there is a need to explore certain symptoms more fully that may indicate that there is a mental health issue that requires treatment.

In some cases, however, a screening may identify a problem that is temporary and may resolve itself with careful monitoring by the caregiver. In some cases of depression, says a new study, there may be merit in waiting a short time with monitoring of the symptoms.

While the authors note that situations involving a suicidal teen or major impairment should always be addressed immediately, many cases may require only time to improve symptoms. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, found that there are two factors that can predict whether symptoms will be resolved without treatment: severity of symptoms and the length of time that the depression persists. If depression symptoms continue beyond six weeks, the teen may require treatment.

The study, published in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics, also involved measuring other factors that the authors believed could impact duration, including family history, abuse and substance use. However, lead author Dr. Laura Richardson of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, explains that the other factors were not useful in predicting the duration of depression.

The study’s findings could have a significant impact on the way depression is diagnosed and treated in the United States. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force made a recommendation that primary care physicians include a screening for depression when examining teenage patients.

The study was designed to help eliminate unnecessary treatments for teens that have a form of temporary depression that will resolve itself.

The study involved a screening of 444 teens between the ages of 13 and 17, who were all residents of Washington or Idaho during 2007 and 2008. Overall, 113 patients screened positive for depression.

Six weeks following the first examination, 47 percent of the teens screened positive. At six months, it decreased to 35 percent.

The researchers explain that as primary care begins to routinely include screenings for depression, there will be many cases of depression surface that require only support and monitoring.

The findings may explain the high rate of placebo effect in studies when teens that are diagnosed with depression are treated with medications. However, the authors of the study say that it may be, instead, that the depression symptoms are resolved on their own.

There is still hope.

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