New guidelines recommend annual depression screenings for teens

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending teens get annual screening for depression starting at age 12, rather than waiting for a sign that something might be wrong.

Just like many parents, Stephanie Rudnitski of Foley, Minnesota is in favor of anything with the potential to help her kids ages 9, 11 and 13. She says their mental health is no exception. 

“I think the sooner we get resources and support for these kids the better they are going to be as adults," said Rudnitski. 

She applauds the AAP's new recommendation for annual screenings for teens. 

“It’s long overdue,” said Dr. Mary Beth Lardizabal, medical director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychology at Allina Health. “We understand depression in adolescence and even the ones we diagnose, only about a third of those get treated.”

Extreme cases of depression can lead to suicide, which is currently the second leading cause of deaths for teens nationwide, with roughly 5,000 taking their own live each year. Many pediatricians already do these screens with teen patients for depression, but until now it hasn't been a universal standard. For years, Minnesota doctors have used a nine-question questionnaire to screen adults, which can easily be modified for teens. 

“I think most people think teen depression looks like adult depression and that is not true,” said Lardizabel.

She points out teens often display irritable mood vs. sad mood, also social withdraw, lack of interest in things and substance abuse. But a reluctance for treatment, the stigma attached and shortage of mental health providers nationwide often result in a three-year gap before a depressed teen gets the right help. 

“There are just so many things now that can effect teens in a more global way," said Lardizabal. "Just the recent scares here locally about shooters in the schools, traumatic events."

A common misconception is that asking the tough questions increases the risk, Lardizabel believes the opposite and parents Fox 9 spoke to agree. 

“I know some kids personally that are going through some things and some people handle it very well and you would never guess they have problems until it’s too late,” said Tony Kirchner, a parent. 

“I think the sooner we get resources and support for these kids, the better they are going to be as adults,” said Rudnitski.