Pediatricians call for universal depression screening for teens

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – New guidelines released this week by the Academy of American Pediatrics are calling for a universal screening for depression in teens.

The AAP is now recommending pediatricians screen all teens 12 years and older for depression and anxiety at least once a year during checkups or other doctor visits. The new guidelines also call for families with a depressed teen to develop a safety plan and to restrict the access to lethal means of harm.

“There are a lot of warning signs that sometimes if you’re not looking for it, or you sort of dismiss it, can be really problematic especially for the teen who’s silently suffering,” said Riley Hospital for Children associate professor of pediatrics Dr. Nerissa Bauer.

Experts say two out of three teens with depression often don’t receive the care they need. Bauer says the new guidelines are a way to close that gap.

“If these kids go undetected they can go on to have a lot of the negative sequela, and the most troublesome is whether or not they feel so down and depressed and hopeless that they consider harming themselves or thoughts of suicide,” she said.

According to the 2018 Indiana Kids count Data Book, one in five high school students have seriously considered committing suicide. However, it also states that just 5.3% of Indiana children have ever been diagnosed with depression.

“We are a safety net for our children, we need to be able to be vigilant about this,” Bauer said.

As experts examine the best way to implement the new guidelines, Ball State associate professor Jagdish Khubchandani says he’s developed a method to help expedite the screening process. Khubchandani developed a four-question test that successfully indicated anxiety and depression for 81% of those who actually had the issues.

“If you can invest a minute and find out that 10% of your pediatric population in clinics has depression or anxiety, then it’s a good investment to make,” Khubchandani said.

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