According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults is suicide. To combat this troubling statistic, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has announced the first update in 10 years to their medical guidelines on adolescent depression.
With as many as one in five teens suffering from undiagnosed and untreated depression, the AAP guidelines are aimed at pediatricians and other primary care providers, who are often in the best position to help.
“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,” Dr. Rachel Zuckerbot, one of the guidelines’ lead authors, said in a press release. “The American Academy of Pediatrics is supporting pediatricians, so they are prepared to identify and treat these types of issues.”
The guidelines are designed for youth ages 10 to 21. One of the new components is a recommendation of a universal adolescent depression screening for all kids over the age of 12.
“Depression is very common in adolescents. Our office already screens adolescents at every well visit,” says Dr. Andrea Kane, a pediatrician with Advocate Children’s Medical Group in Bloomington, Ill. “Often, teens will be more open and honest on paper screening questionnaires than to direct questions.”
Other recommendations in the guidelines include:
- A treatment team that includes the child, family and a mental health expert
- Education and screening tools to aid in assessment and diagnosis
- Counseling and other options for managing depression
- A treatment plan with goals for home, peer and school settings
- A safety plan, which includes the restriction of lethal risks (such as firearms) as well as emergency communication methods
The guidelines encourage pediatricians to closely monitor teens who have a history of trauma, depression, adversity or substance abuse.
“Suicide attempts and completion rates are far too high among teens,” says Dr. Kane.
Physicians can also look to the guidelines for direction on when to consult with mental health providers based on the severity of the disorder.
“There are often community mental health resources that families and physicians can consult to obtain the best possible care,” Dr. Zuckerbot said. “The earlier we identify teenagers who show signs of depression, the better the outcome.”