Should All Teens Be Screened For Depression?

1 July 2016, 11:17 | Updated: 16 June 2017, 10:36

Woodrow Whyte

By Woodrow Whyte

A panel of medical experts believe so.

This is could be an interesting development for mental health care provision.

As reported by Fusion, The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force are a panel of medical experts who provide guidelines on best practice to American doctors. In response to a series of national surveys, which highlighted the difficulties young people face in getting access to treatment for depression, they decided to investigate what could be done to tackle this problem.

One survey suggested that in a nationally representative sample of 6,483 adolescents (13 to 18 years-olds), "half of adolescents with severely impairing mental disorders had never received mental health treatment for their symptoms" It's a disturbing, but perhaps not totally surprising, figure.

The task force has recommended that 12 to 18 year-olds be screened using questionnaires that flag up warning signs. Early identification and treatment could help avoid the long-term effects of depression such as functional impairment, decreased academic performance, troubled relationships with family and friends, as well as other physical and mental health problems and an increase risk of suicide. 

The report stipulates that doctors should screen both teenagers and adults for depression only if the clinic is equipped able to provide treatment if the patient is diagnosed. Which basically means, don't try to diagnosed them if you can't help them  

The problem is this: how many clinics are prepared to deal with a potentially big influx of patients? If the statistics are correct, clinics might see a doubling of the number of patients. We don't have figures about the supply and demand of mental health care provision, but we're confident in assuming that the existing resources are probably fairly limited/stretched already.

We're also slightly sceptical of how reliable a questionnaire can be. Often with depression, people will hide symptoms through fear of embarrassment or social stigma. It's not hard to imagine people lying to get around these tests. Having said that, we'd say this is a welcome start to encouraging a stronger focus on mental heath. It has been ignored for far too long.

What do you think? Are questionnaires for everyone to check for signs of depression a good thing? Let us know in the comments.