BEST Pediatric group calls for new childhood depression screening guidelines

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COLUMBIA – The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released revised guidelines this week for the screening of children for depression.

Missouri AAP Chapter President Ken Haller said childhood depression is a problem across the country.

“We have two problems. One, screening adolescents to see if they’re depressed to begin with, and second is getting them treatment once that happens,” Haller said. 

The Academy said as many as one in every five teens experience depression at some point, but they often go undiagnosed and untreated, sometimes because of a lack of access to mental health specialists.

In a press release from the Academy, the group said this is the first time in 10 years they have revised the guidelines.

The guidelines strongly encourage a universal screening of children ages 12 and older for depression on a yearly basis. 

“A lot of parents go to their pediatrician for the scraped knees and sore throats but don’t think of them when it comes to seeking help for emotional and behavioral issues,” said lead guideline author Dr. Rachel Zuckerbrot in the release.

Recommendations also include:

  • Providing a treatment team that includes the patient, family and access to mental health expertise
  • 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, peer and school settings. 
  • Developing a safety plan, as needed, which includes restricting lethal means, such as firearms in the home, and providing emergency communication methods.

Haller said studies show children are more likely to reveal information to their doctor in a questionnaire than in a face-to-face conversation, but it doesn’t end there.     

“Having that questionnaire filled out is a really good way to start the conversation,” Haller said. “If everything is negative and the kid says they’re feeling fine, that’s great. On the other hand, sometimes kids will put information in that questionnaire that might not be obvious just looking at them.” 

Haller said he uses questionnaires in his own work and has seen results.