Doctors Can Head Off This Dangerous Teen Health Epidemic Early, If We Let Them

Mental health struggles are not unique to adults, as both young children and teenagers can be affected.  While sometimes parents or other loved ones may notice that something “is off”, that concern doesn’t always translate into professional help.

Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has decided to shine a spotlight on teen depression. A new update to their mental health screening guidelines is geared towards adolescents aged 10 to 21, and is the first overhaul in 10 years.

They cite the rising number of teens with undiagnosed mood disorders as inspiration behind the update.

Research shows that only 50% of adolescents with depression are diagnosed before reaching adulthood. In primary care, as many as 2 in 3 youth with depression are not identified by their PC clinicians and fail to receive any kind of care. Even when diagnosed by PC providers, only half of these patients are treated appropriately.”

In a push to help physicians screen for depression, the AAP is recommending that they not only consider the family history of their patients, but to spend one-on-one time with each one as part of the process. It is often hard for teens to open up in the presence of their parents.

They also want to encourage parental input, as well as use of a questionnaire as a screening tool. Working in partnership with families, doctors can then outline the best treatment plan for the patient. In many cases, it may involve referrals to community mental health agencies or providers— e.g. a psychologist or psychiatrist.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), roughly 60 percent of depressed teens never receive treatment. In addition to them not be diagnosed, the AAP believes a contributing factor behind this statistic is lack of access to mental health care.

Cost, availability of suitable specialists, and insurance coverage all play a role. At minimum, the organization recommends that kids age 12 and older be screened annually through a written or electronic assessment form. This would be provided for the child or their caregivers(s) to complete on their own.

Those who are already exhibiting symptoms of a mental health disorder will be monitored more often. Depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms, a treatment plan may include counseling, medication, crisis intervention (for suicidal teens), or a combination of various methods. The plan would also be well-rounded enough to help address any emotional/mental problems that will impact the child at home or school.

The AAP considers this to be an urgent issue, even though barriers to care exist. Jump to the video down below to hear about the major reasons that youth mental health care is lacking.

With so many young people suffering from depression and other mood disorders, having a support system in place is paramount. It can be hard for parents to see, but here are couple of signs that your teen may be experiencing more than normal teen angst:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in friends or activities they once enjoyed
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Problems with sleep patterns
  • Feeling hopeless, sad, or lost
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Were you aware that teen depression was so prevalent? Have you had trouble seeking mental health services for your adolescent child? Does your pediatrician screen for depression?

American Academy of Pediatrics
Psychology Today