Routine Depression Tests for Teenagers
> 3/30/2009 2:57:41 PM

The United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts charged by the government with formulating recommendations for primary care clinicians, has just published a new guideline for depression screening. Their report, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, calls for deeper, universal inquiry into the depression symptoms of every young patient that walks into the doctor’s office.

An estimated two million teenagers in the United States are caught in the shadow of depression, yet this common affliction often goes undiagnosed. The unacceptable detection rate may be due to previously prevailing guidelines. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only that doctors ask their patients about depression. The new Task Force guideline raises the chance of detection by calling for the administration of comprehensive, evidence-based, depression questionnaires.

Other guidelines that did recommend full questionnaires recommended that these only be given to a focused group of high-risk teenagers. However, the Task Force pointed out that depression is so prevalent that such focus would ignore thousands of cases.

The new guidelines are vital because primary care clinicians are the first and often the only line of defense against depression and many other mental disorders. Because they usually have a genuine relationship with the teenagers that they have been seeing for years, primary care physicians are both less intimidating and more likely to perceive a foreboding change in behavior.  They can prescribe antidepressants, but the Task Force cautions against medication without therapy.

In-depth, across-the-board depression screening should significantly reduce instances of undiagnosed depression, preventing years of isolation and misery.  

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