A recent piece in USA Today highlighted the importance of screening teens and tweens for depression. According to government-appointed experts serving on the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 18 should be routinely screened for major depression by their primary care doctor.
The same government-appointed group announced in 2002 that there was not enough evidence to support or oppose screening for teens. While their position remains the same for children in the 7 to 11 year range, the Force believes that the benefits of screening in the older age group far outweigh any risks if doctors are able to deliver an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Industry research suggests that depression occurs in 1 out of 20 teens and has a strong link to lower grades, increased physical illness and drug use, and early pregnancy. If screening can identify such tendencies in teens and offer treatment to combat the impact, experts believe the teen will be better off in the long run.
Supporting research from other sources also point to the benefits of screening teens for depression. A report in Pediatrics suggested that questionnaires are accurate in identifying teens prone to depression and new evidence suggests that therapy and/or certain antidepressants can be of benefit. The downside to such an approach is that antidepressants have been shown to increase suicidal behavior.
While standard screening could prove to be vital in the fight against teen depression, careful monitoring has to be in place. At the same time, doctors may run into insurance plans or managed care companies that argue against the effectiveness of such screenings and refuse reimbursement.
Implementing depression screenings into routine health checks for tweens and teens may prove to be difficult, facing such obstacles as stigmas associated with the screenings, objections from insurance providers and even spotty acceptance amongst practitioners. Widespread adoption must be driven through education and on-going research.