Screen All Teens For Depression, Pediatricians Urge : Shots - Health News The nation's leading group of pediatricians has updated its guidelines for tackling teen mental health issues. One recommendation: Annual depression screening for all adolescents 12 and older.

Pediatricians Call For Universal Depression Screening For Teens

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As any parent of a teenager can tell you, teens can be moody at the best of times. So how can you tell if something more serious is actually going on? The American Academy of Pediatrics is today releasing new guidelines aimed at flagging and treating teen depression. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that as many as 1 in 5 teens experience bouts of depression, but many do not get help.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It's not uncommon for teenagers to withdraw from their parents, to cut them out of communication. And sometimes, parents don't want to pry. Adolescent psychiatrist Rachel Zuckerbrot says this dynamic is one reason teen depression can go undetected.

RACHEL ZUCKERBROT: So often people are suffering on the inside, but it might not be obvious on the outside. And sometimes it gets misdiagnosed because sometimes teenagers who are depressed are actually acting out and misbehaving, and instead, they are looked at as being hostile or bad when in fact they're really suffering from depression.

AUBREY: Zuckerbrot says this is a problem. She's an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia.

ZUCKERBROT: Most teenagers with depression don't get access to mental health care. In fact, about 50 percent of teenagers don't even get diagnosed.

AUBREY: To address this, the American Academy of Pediatrics' new guidelines call for universal screening for teen depression.

ZUCKERBROT: What we're endorsing is that everyone who is 12 and up be given, at least once a year for their school physicals or their sports physicals, a depression screen that is a self-report questionnaire.

AUBREY: Zuckerbrot helped write the new guidelines, which have been in the works for a while. She says teens tend to be more honest when they're not face to face with an adult asking questions. So they can fill out the questionnaires in private.

ZUCKERBROT: These questionnaires ask about whether they've been sad and irritable. They ask about whether things that used to be interesting to them are now boring. They ask if they're having difficulty with sleep, either too much sleep or too little sleep.

AUBREY: The recommendations also call for families with a depressed teen to come up with a safety plan.

ZUCKERBROT: We do want to make sure as part of safety planning that firearms are locked up, that alcohol is either put away and locked up or gotten rid of.

AUBREY: Zuckerbrot says families also need to know where to go.

ZUCKERBROT: Parents go to their pediatrician for vaccinations, for a high fever but don't realize that when there are emotional problems or behavioral problems that their pediatrician is going to be an excellent resource.

AUBREY: And often the best place to start. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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