For Parents

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Depression Screening in Children and Teens

Overview

Depression is a serious mood disorder that can take the joy from a child's life. It's normal for a child to be moody or sad at times, such as after the death of a pet. But if these feelings last for weeks or months, they may be a sign of depression.

Depression screening is a quick way for a doctor to see if your child has symptoms of depression. This screening is often part of a routine checkup. That's because your child's mental health is just as important as their physical health.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all people, starting at age 12, be screened for depression by their doctor. Screening for depression helps find depression early. And early treatment may help people recover faster.

During screening

Your teen or older child may be asked to fill out a form about their depression symptoms. It's important for your child to be honest about how they are feeling. The doctor and your child will talk about the answers. The doctor may ask you or your child more questions to learn more about how your child thinks, acts, and feels.

The doctor may want to know about things like:

  • Grouchiness.
  • Lost interest in activities that used to be fun.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Sleeping more or less than usual.
  • Not wanting to spend time with friends or family, and more.

Teens and older children with depression may also have other issues. These might be anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an eating disorder. The doctor may ask questions about these things too.

After screening

If your child has symptoms of depression, the doctor will talk to you about your options.

Doctors usually treat depression with medicines or counseling. Often, combining the two works best. Many people think that they'll get over the depression on their own. But people with depression may not get better unless they get treatment. It's a medical illness. And it isn't your child's fault.

It's important to know that depression can be treated. The first step toward feeling better is often just seeing that the condition exists.

A serious symptom of depression is thinking about death or suicide.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Credits

Current as of: April 28, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health