Pediatricians call for regular teen depression screenings - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Pediatricians call for regular teen depression screenings

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Seemingly typical teenage angst can lead to more serious depression, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The group says mental illness and depression are growing threats to American kids.

New guidelines published Monday say pediatricians should look for signs of depression in their young patients as part of regular check-ups.

Frank Warren of San Luis Obispo County Behavioral Health says teen depression is prevalent in local schools.

“In our middle school program for instance, we probably have 200 young people every year that we work with who've had some identified level of risk,” Warren said. “In our high school program, we probably have another 200.”

According to the latest California Healthy Kids Survey, nearly a fifth of San Luis Obispo County seventh grade students reported feelings of chronic sadness or hopelessness.

That number jumps up to about a third for kids surveyed in ninth and eleventh grades.

“It may be just be the malaise of being a teen but at the same time, I think that's a real telling variable,” Warren said. “If a young person says, ‘I don't feel like anyone cares,’ that usually means there's something more that's potential there to be a problem.”

Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics says all kids over age 12 should undergo depression screenings at routine check-ups.

That means asking teens hard questions.

“Have you ever been so depressed that you felt like taking your own life? Have you ever been so depressed that you felt like not going to school?” said Warren.

If necessary, the academy says pediatricians should offer treatment plan options and set up a treatment team that includes the patient, his or her family and access to mental health resources.

“It's that message of love, that unconditional response that everybody can give which is just that little bit of hope that may save someone's life,” Warren said.

The updated guidelines also recommend developing a safety plan as needed, including restrictions on any firearms in the home.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, signs of teen depression often include:

  • Sleep problems (they often sleep more)
  • Loss of interest in friends
  • Changes in appetite
  • Hopeless or guilty thoughts
  • Changes in body movements, such as feeling edgy or slowed down
  • Frequent physical illnesses

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