Those who are between 12 and 18 years old should undergo screening for depression, according to the recommendations of a team of preventive experts.
Doctors and health care providers are also advised to establish a system that will allow young people to receive treatment for depression when they need it.
Members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued the guidelines on Monday in response to a revelation that only less than half of adolescents suffering from depression are able to receive treatment for their condition.
The decision to implement depression screening for adolescents is also in line with earlier recommendations to have adults undergo screening as well.
"From a parent's perspective, I think it's important for them to know that depression can be relatively common in adolescence and we have ways to treat it," Dr. Alex Krist, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the members of the USPSTF, said.
Depression Screening For Young People
USPSTF's recommendations suggest that all people living in the United States who are older than 12 years old should be screened periodically for symptoms of depression. These include feelings of worthlessness or guilt, changes in appetite, energy or sleep and persistent occurrences of irritability or sadness.
If an individual is diagnosed with depression, the panel said that health care providers should be ready to recommend treatment for him or her.
Treating older children suffering from depression is vastly different from treating adults with the condition. The Food and Drug Administration has approved only two antidepressant therapies in the class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for patients below 18 years old. These are fluoxetine and escitalopram.
The FDA has also advised health care providers to closely monitor patients below 24 years old who are undergoing SSRI antidepressant treatment because these individuals are more likely to have thoughts of suicide.
In its investigation, the USPSTF discovered that patients who received medication alone or psychotherapy alone as a means to address their depression only experienced moderate benefits. Those who received a combination of the two treatments, however, showed marked improvements in their mood and functioning.
Recent studies suggest that about 8 percent of adolescents in the U.S. are diagnosed with major depressive disorder every year, but only 36 to 44 percent of these individuals say they have received treatment for their condition.
Symptoms of depression typically appear when the patient is between 14 to 15 years old. It has also been found that girls are twice as likely to suffer from the condition compared to boys.
Young people who contend with depressive episodes early in life are also more likely to suffer from these occurrences when they become older.
These individuals are more susceptible to having suicidal thoughts as well. About 20 percent of depressed teenagers between 13 to 18 years old will try to commit suicide as a result of their predicament.
USPSTF said it has found evidence of depression in children below 12 years old as well. However, these were not enough to warrant a recommendation for depression screening.
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