Study: Treatment of depression in teens increases when screened in school

Health

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — There’s been widespread concern about increasing depression in teens during the pandemic. A new study shows screening in schools can help get them the help they need.

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The number of tweens and teens reporting symptoms of depression rose more than 70% from 2008 to 2018.

Suicides, often associated with mental health conditions, are now the second-leading cause of adolescent death.

A new study by researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine shows students who participated in universal school-based depression screening were twice as likely to get into treatment compared to those who didn’t receive the screening.

“From a school perspective it impacts academics right and their long term career success and personal life success,” said Dr. Deepa Sekhar, associate professor of pediatrics and the principal investigator.

She says kids who took the screening were six times more likely to identify with symptoms of depression.

“No screening tool is diagnosing depression. Your child should not be diagnosed with depression based on a nine-item screening tool,” Sekhar said.

She also says we can’t rely only on doctors to spot depression and says less than half of adolescents in the U.S. have regular checkups with even fewer getting screened.

“Our current system relies on students exhibiting some kind of symptoms, so you’ve got to be acting out or failing out of your classes,” Sekhar said. “You’ve got to do something that prompts someone to say this kiddo’s having trouble and we need to get them connected to services.”

But, it’s not that obvious for many teens battling depression.

While not everyone tells the truth on these kinds of screening forms, including adults, it sends the message that “If you’ve got something you want to talk about I’m here, right, so yes parents should talk about it and yes, physicians should be talking about it and this to me is just another opportunity to open the door for someone who needs help,” Sekhar said.

Researchers say the next step is looking for ways to make sure school districts that want to add depression screening can do so.

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