WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal task force is recommending pediatricians and family doctors screen all students over 12 years old regularly for depression and issue prescriptions or treatment as necessary.
The recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests there’s ample evidence showing the need to screen all students aged 12- to 18-years-old for depression, though officials did not recommend a similar standard for those under 12, CNN reports.
“The USPSTF recommends screening for major depressive disorder (MDD) in adolescents aged 12 to 18 years. Screening should be implemented with adequate systems in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and appropriate follow-up,” according to a summary of the recommendations.
“The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for MDD in children aged 11 years and younger.”
The updated recommendations for adolescents, last visited in 2009, “very much parallel the recommendations for adults (18 and older),” Alex Krist, family medicine professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and Task Force member, told CNN.
Previous USPSTF recommendations called for screening youth only when treatment is available, but the new suggested protocol assumes those treatment systems are now in place, Krist said.
“We believe that health care has advanced a lot and it’s more the norm …,” he said.
“The front line of adolescent mental health is the pediatric and family care practice,” Duke University professor of pediatrics Gary Maslow said. “I don’t think (screening kids for mental issues is) that much more complex than the things (doctors) are already doing.”
“The biggest challenge is identifying adolescents,” he said. “Without screening they fall through the cracks and don’t come to attention until the symptoms get worse.”
“I think we have medications and therapies that are effective,” Maslow continued.
The USPSTF recommendations cite ways for doctors to screen children and young adults for depression but do not specify how often doctors should screen their patients. Krist told CNN he screens adults and adolescents annually.
But unlike the USPSTF’s previous suggestions, the new recommendations advocate for the use of antidepressants for those ages 12 to 17, including fluoxetine, which is branded as Prozac, and Lexapro, starting as young as 8 years old, according to the news site.
“In 2009 the evidence of benefits was around therapy … so we advocated therapy,” Krist said. “Now we are saying it can be medication, therapy or a combination.”
Fox 5 reports “The National Alliance on Mental Illness says nearly 7 percent of American adults, which is about 16 million people, had at least one major depressive episode last year. CDC records show that more than 41,000 Americans commit suicide each year. About 90 percent of suicides are related to mental illness.”
“About 8 percent of adolescents have suffered depression in the last year, according to U.S. surveys” cited by CNN.
The USPSTF’s recommendations for adolescents follows the Task Force’s recent suggestion to screen all adults for depression, including older adults, pregnant women, and new mothers, according to the news site.
The USPSTF is run through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Health Research and Quality.