Teens need routine depression screening

The holiday season is a time of year when experts say there’s an uptick in anxiety and depression. Yet, upwards of 80 percent of people suffering from a mental health condition never reach out for professional help. Dr. Madhukar Trivedi is pushing for depression to be part of routine medical care including annual physicals before the start of school. Read Health Insight

Madhukar Trivedi, M.D.
Professor, Psychiatry
Director, Center for Depression Research & Clinical Care

More than 50 percent of people who are going to develop depression develop their first episode before the age of 18. And more than 75 percent of people who are going to have depression have their first episode before the age of 25. It is actually foolish of us not to start thinking about this early and making it routine in any medical visit every year.

At the beginning of the school year, we get all middle and high school students to get a full physical. We need to introduce screening for depression and anxiety together with it and make it part of a regular medical visit and every child should be screened at least once a year in order to avoid delaying diagnosis, treatment and bad outcomes.

Asking a child about whether they are feeling depressed or anxious never puts that idea in their head. In fact, most often children will feel relief that somebody in their life is actually thinking about it and they will report anxiety or depression only if they are experiencing it. The same is true for suicidal ideation.

There also remains a major concern that children will be put on medications and that will scar them for life. There are two issues. One is there are many other treatments available that does not require medications and for those children who need medications, there are very good safety precautions we can take and actually save lives so therefore getting an opinion from a medical professional is the best solution.

To address the problems that we find nationally about depression and anxiety, we are now in over 30 middle and high schools in north Texas area. Last year, we reached about 8 thousand students. This year, we are slated to reach another 10 thousand students where we routinely screen them for depression, anxiety and other issues and connect them to the right care. The advantage to that is that we are not waiting for them to get into a crisis, but we are identifying issues much earlier and the earlier you identify them, the better the treatment and the better the outcomes.