Policy Statement on Depression Screening

Approved by Council June 2019

Background

Depression is a leading cause of disability and morbidity with an estimate of more than 300 million people suffering from the disorder worldwide. Depressive disorders are now known to arise in early childhood with marked increases in prevalence with onset of puberty in girls. There are several brief and developmentally specific screeners that can be used in children/adolescent from age 3-18. Children/adolescents with depression suffer from social, emotional and educational impairments. Childhood/adolescent depression are also associated with an increased risk of suicide as well as risk for developing other psychiatric disorders and substance abuse. Over 50% of youth (children/adolescents) with depression will have a recurrence of depression in adulthood. Studies suggest that less than 50% of depressed children/adolescents receive mental health care, thus there is a clear need for screening for depression across health care settings.

Recommendations

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends:

  • Routine screening for depression in children/adolescents age 8 and older across health care settings, including primary care as well as mental health care setting
  • Assessing for symptoms of depression in children/adolescents 3 and older referred for emotional and behavioral problems.
  • If a child/adolescent has depressive symptoms, the primary care provider or the mental health clinician should conduct a clinical interview with the child/adolescent and parent(s) to assess for a possible diagnosis of depression.
  • Once the diagnosis of depression has been established, the child/adolescent and family should be educated about depression in youth, and the child should be treated or referred for treatment.
  • Improving education of health professionals, teachers, and the general public about the signs and symptoms of depression and its treatment in youth.

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The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry promotes the healthy development of children, adolescents, and families through advocacy, education, and research. Child and adolescent psychiatrists are the leading physician authority on children’s mental health.