As many as one in every five teens experiences depression during adolescence, but their symptoms often go undiagnosed and untreated because they lack access to mental health specialists.
But everyone’s main point of contact with the health care system is usually their primary care physician—and for adolescents, that can mean a pediatrician. So to support adolescent mental health, in February the American Academy of Pediatrics for the first time in 10 years released updated guidelines on adolescent depression.
These guidelines call for detecting depression early by screening every young American age 12 to 21 every year.
While it might be weird to think of an older teen, such as a college student, going to a pediatrician, it can be helpful for what’s called “continuity of care,” which means keeping the same doctor that you trust because—well, because you can! Some pediatric practices see patients until age 21. A pediatric practice that is adolescent-friendly will have at least one exam room that’s isn’t filled with balloons and teddy bears—it will resemble an adult exam room. And there are pediatricians—like SOVA’s own Dr. Rad, who was just featured in the Washington Post—who specialize in adolescent and young-adult medicine.
A lot of parents take their children to their pediatricians for scraped knees and sore throats “but don’t think of them when it comes to seeking help for emotional and behavioral issues,” said Rachel Zuckerbrot, MD, FAAP, a lead author of the guidelines. She added,
The American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting pediatricians so that they are prepared to identify and treat these types of issues. The earlier we identify teenagers who show signs of depression, the better the outcome.
The guidelines recommend:
- Providing a treatment team that includes the patient, family, and mental health experts
- Offering education and screening tools to identify, assess and diagnose patients
- Counseling on depression and options for management of the disorder
- Developing a treatment plan with specific goals in functioning in the home, with peers and at school
- Developing a safety plan, as needed, which includes restricting lethal means, such as firearms in the home, and providing emergency communication methods
“We would like to see teens fill out a depression screening tool as a routine part of their regular wellness visit,” said Amy Cheung, MD, also a lead author.
Parents should be comfortable offering any of their own observations, questions or concerns, which will help the physician get a well-rounded picture of the patient’s health.
It’s important to have health-care providers that you trust. Has your doctor screened you for depression? If not, have you still been able to talk with your doctor about your mental health challenges? Share with us in the comments!