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New Pediatric Guidelines Lower the Age of Depression Screening

Written by Melanie Williams, M.D. on Apr 23, 2018, 8:03:00 AM

Depression can be a harmful and dangerous illness to deal with – especially for kids and teens. Between 2007 and 2015, the suicide rate in teen girls doubled, reaching its highest point in more than 40 years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. This is part of the reason the American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidelines to recommend that kids be screened annually for depression beginning at age 12. 

Early Detection Is Important

As with so many medical conditions, catching depression early is incredibly important in being able to effectively treat it in a way that causes as little disruption as possible to the patient – your child. Some parents balk at the idea that their child could be depressed. “What do they have to be depressed about?” is a question often heard by healthcare professionals. The truth of the matter is many children feel the effects of depression. Not only do they have to navigate the complicated waters of interpersonal relationships between friends, family, teachers, and potential schoolmate rivals, but they oftentimes have to deal with divorce, worries at home, and other forms of loss.

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There could also be a chemical imbalance compounding these issues, making the hill they need to climb to wellness even tougher. Physicians have also found that screening children annually showed more kids than were originally thought are dealing with the effects of depression. 

Screening is fairly easy – just a series of questions – and if they’re uncomfortable answering these questions in a face-to-face manner, a written questionnaire may be effective in getting to the bottom of their mental health status. 

A Variety of Treatments May Be Available

One of the best things about catching depression early, besides early intervention, is there are multiple ways therapists and physicians can intercede to try and resolve the issue. 

Oftentimes family therapy is an important component of the treatment plan, but play therapy, group sessions with other kids, and individual therapy are also options that have proven to be effective for children dealing with depression. 

If your child’s doctor determines the depression stems from a chemical imbalance, medication can be prescribed.  Because there are more options for children’s depression therapy than for adults, it may be easier to find a combination of treatments that work for your child the younger he or she is. 

Warning Signs

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If you think your child may be suffering from depression, but aren’t sure, the best action you can take is to talk with your physician. But there are some telltale signs to look for that might indicate depression. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking these symptoms seriously, and taking your child to their doctor if you notice them: 

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleeping patterns (too much or too little)
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling slowed down or "burned out"
  • Excessive feelings of guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Indecisiveness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Recurring thoughts of death and suicide
  • Physical complaints (stomach aches, headaches)
  • Behavioral changes, which can mean conflicts with family and friends, a decline in school performance, inappropriate sexual activity, or the use of alcohol or drugs 

If you have any questions, concerns, or think your child might be suffering from depression, don’t wait until he or she is 12 to start screening. 



Dr. Melanie Williams is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic and Clear Lake Clinic. Her clinical interests include developmental disorders and delays, blood disorders and normal development of babies and toddlers.



Topics: depression in kids, adolescents and depression, screening kids for depression, American Academy of Pediatrics

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