About half of teens living with depression never get diagnosed. But new guidelines could change that and potentially save lives.
"There's teens out there who have not been identified as having clinical depression who, frankly, will suffer because of the symptoms that occur and the functioning that is impaired as a result," said Dr. John Hertzer, division director of child and adolescent psychiatry at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
It is a heartbreaking reality, with thousands of teens falling through the cracks and suffering in silence.
"There is a stigma out there, still," said Dr. Hertzer.
Research shows teens are at about a 20 percent chance of having depression or anxiety, and the numbers are going up. While it is a common problem, Dr. Hertzer says it can be difficult to talk about.
"The earlier we identify and treat, the better off the outcome is, so it's an important factor," he explained.
That is the inspiration behind new guidelines just issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, calling for universal screening for depression for all adolescents 12 and older.
"We'll hopefully pick up on some kids who have clinical depression, and thereafter, the pediatrician can take a lead, either in careful monitoring of the symptoms or, on the other side, referral to a mental health professional," said Dr. Hertzer.
According to Dr. Hertzer, some local pediatricians are already screening for depression but these universal guidelines will help more teens and could even save lives.
"In the last decade, sadly, the suicide rates in both boys and girls have increased," he said.
Suicide is a leading cause of death for children 10 to 17 years old. The new recommendations call for families of depressed teens to come up with a safety plan to restrict their access to potentially deadly methods of harm.
As for what to look for, Dr. Hertzer says changes in sleep and appetite, low energy, loss of interest, trouble concentrating and grades dropping can all be signs of depression. If you have any concerns about your child, get in touch with their doctor right away.