Universal Depression Screening now Recommended for Teens at Primary Care Visits

CLEVELAND – The teenage years can be a tumultuous time and for some, can lead to symptoms of depression.

But research shows that only about half of teens with depression get the help they need before reaching adulthood.

In an effort to combat this trend, recent recommendations are calling for universal screening for depression symptoms in all teens.

According to Joseph Austerman, D.O., a pediatric behavioral health specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, treating teen depression starts with being able to recognize when there is a problem.

RELATED: How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Depression

And while recognizing the symptoms – which include sudden changes in behavior, mood, appetite, sleep habits or withdrawal from social activities – is important, Dr. Austerman said once depression is recognized, getting the right treatment is key.

“Even when depression is recognized, which is anywhere between 30-50 percent of the time, only half of the time are we actually doing anything about it,” he said. “If we’re not treating teenage depression almost 80 percent of the time, that becomes a big problem because it has real world consequences, with the most dangerous one being suicide attempts and eventual suicide.” 

Joseph Austerman, D.O., said when teens spend hours of time online it increases the availability of negative interactions with peers.

Dr. Austerman said access to cell phones and social media plays a role in rising depression rates amongst today’s teens. He said spending hours of time online not only disconnects teens from others, but also increases the availability of negative interactions.

There are some things that teens can do that will help boost their mood.

“Getting regular sleep; regular exercise, and being engaged with others have shown to have very powerful effects in treating depression,” Dr. Austerman said.

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Teenage depression can lead to substance abuse, eating disorders and negative family interactions. Dr. Austerman said the younger a person is when they begin to experience depression, the more at risk they are of developing on-going depression as an adult, which is why treating it early is so important.

“The earlier that you can intervene and recognize that it could potentially be a problem, the easier it is to actually implement solutions before it becomes such a big problem that you’re dealing with much larger issues than just depression,” said he said.

Dr. Austerman said recognizing a problem starts in the home – because parents know their child the best. If parents have concerns, he said it’s essential to bring them up to the child’s pediatrician, who can help walk families through the available options to get the teen the help they need.

Complete results of the research are available in Pediatrics.