Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Depression screening in adolescents

In Brief

Depression screening in adolescents

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an influential government advisory body, has published a statement recommending that clinicians screen adolescents (defined as ages 12 to 18) for depression — with one important caveat. The screening should take place only when clinical systems for diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care are available.

Major depression affects nearly 3% of children younger than 13, and 5.6% of those ages 13 to 18. The task force issued the new guidelines because major depression is so disabling, with long-term consequences, and yet most youngsters who are depressed go undiagnosed and untreated. After reviewing the evidence, the authors recommended using one of two screening instruments that are effective in primary care settings: the Patient Health Questionnaire for Adolescents (PHQ-A) or the Beck Depression Inventory–Primary Care version (BDI-PC).

The authors noted that in adolescents, a variety of psychotherapies — such as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy — may alleviate depression. If antidepressants are prescribed, they need to be monitored.

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