New guidelines for pediatricians recommend screening teens for depression

(File Photo)

New guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend all pediatricians start screening teenagers for depression.

"Behavioral health issues are way more prevalent than people think. In most pediatric and family medicine clinics, around a quarter or more (teen patients) are suffering from depression," said Ben Hoffman, M.D. a pediatrician at Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

The screening is recommended to begin at age 12, when kids are in middle school.

"They're wanting pediatricians, who could be on the front lines of seeing these kids long before mental health providers; they want the pediatricians to be actively involved in recognizing the signs of depression and other mental health issues as well," Sandy Ramirez, Psy. D., a clinical psychologist.

Teen patients will self-report using a questionnaire. Ramirez said teens are more likely to answer these questions honestly than if they're asked verbally by a doctor.

Teens will be asked questions, like if they are "feeling down, depressed, irritable, or hopeless."

Hoffman has adopted these guidelines in his practice. He told KATU News he started the screening process and set of questions with his teen patients five years ago.

"If we don't ask about it, if we don't screen for it, we're not going to find it. If we don't find it, then kids are going to suffer," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said there are a lot of factors that contribute to teen depression.

"Depression can lead to tons of problems for teens and adolescents from school failure, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, to suicide," he said.

Ramirez said teens, and adults, deal with a lot of stressors that can lead to depression. She said parents and teens need to realize that it's more than just a phase.

"When you have clinical depression you're down and you can't just decide to change your mind and change your attitude about it and cheer up," she said.

Parents, she said, should educate themselves about the warning signs for depression. She said teens might start abusing alcohol or drugs or show a lack of interest in usual activity. She encourages parents to utilize tools provided online by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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