All teens should be screened for depression, according to new national guidelines

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A national medical panel recommended this week that doctors should regularly screen all teenagers for signs of depression during routine visits, a month after making the same recommendation for adults.

Experts on the panel pointed out that that fewer than half of children and adolescents with depression are getting the treatment they need, according to several national studies.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is a voluntary panel of sixteen medical experts, appointed by the head of the government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, who provide best practice guidelines to American doctors. They published the recommendations in Annals of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians' journal. These guidelines update a 2009 report that recommended doctors screen both teenagers and adults for depression, but only if the clinic is equipped to provide treatment and support for the patient if they're diagnosed. The new guidelines are based on the idea that most clinics should be able to provide those services.


The task force now recommends all patients between 12 and 18 years old be screened using questionnaires that can pick up on warning signs of the mental health disorder, which (though the symptoms are different for every teen with depression) can include low energy levels, a lack of interest in usual activities, and a change in appetite or sleeping habits.

"From a parent's perspective, I think it’s important for them to know that depression can be relatively common in adolescence and we have ways to treat it," Dr. Alex Krist, a member of the task force and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, told Reuters.

Using drugs to treat depression in teens has been met with controversy because young adults could be more prone to side-effects that could make them suicidal—the F.D.A. has only approved two drugs for treating depression in teens. But a screening and diagnosis could be a starting point to find the right treatment, whether that's counseling, psychotherapy, drugs, or a combination of those approaches.

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