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Get Your Teen Screened for Depression

Content last updated on:
November 25, 2014

The Basics

If your child is between ages 12 and 18, talk to a doctor about screening (testing) for depression. More than 1 in 10 teens show some signs of depression.

Most teens with depression don’t get the help they need. Depression is serious, but it can be treated with counseling or medicine.

Talk to your teen’s doctor about screening for depression, even if you don’t see signs of a problem. Find out what services are available (like therapy or counseling), in case your teen needs follow-up care.

What is depression?
Teen depression is a serious mental health problem. If your child is depressed, he may:

  • Feel sad or irritable (easily upset) most of the time 
  • Lose interest in favorite activities
  • Have aches and pains for no reason
  • Sleep too much or be unable to sleep
  • Eat too much or have trouble eating
  • Use drugs or alcohol
  • Think about death or suicide

It’s normal for teens to have mood swings. It can be hard to tell if your child is just feeling down or if he’s depressed – that’s why it’s so important to have your teen screened for depression.

Learn more about depression in teens:

What causes depression?
Depression can happen to anyone. It’s not your fault or your teen’s fault. Some experiences may make it more likely that a teen will develop depression, like:

  • Dealing with a big loss, like a death or divorce in the family
  • Living with someone who is depressed
  • Having another mental health problem, like anxiety or an eating disorder
  • Feeling stressed at school or at home
  • Having a family history of depression

Teen girls are more likely to get depressed than teen boys.

What happens during a depression screening?
The doctor will ask your teen questions about her feelings and behaviors. The doctor may ask her how often she:

  • Feels hopeless or sad
  • Has low energy or feels tired during the day
  • Has trouble paying attention at school
  • Eats too much or has trouble eating

Screening for depression usually takes about 5 minutes. It can be done as part of your teen’s yearly checkup.

What if the doctor finds signs of depression?
If your child is showing signs of depression, the doctor will:

  • Refer your teen to a therapist or doctor with special training in helping young people with emotional or behavioral problems
  • Talk about medicines or treatments that could help your teen with depression
  • Order blood tests to check for other health problems

Make sure to include your teen when you make any decisions about treatment.

Take Action!

Take Action!

Take these steps to protect your teen’s mental health.

Talk to your teen’s doctor about depression screening.
Ask the doctor to screen your child for depression. If you are worried about your teen, tell the doctor. Find out what services are available in case your teen needs treatment.

What about cost?
Screening for depression is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, your teen may be able to get screened at no cost to you. Check with your insurance provider.

Find out more about the mental health services covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Even if you don’t have health insurance, free and low-cost mental health services are available. Find mental health services near you.

Write down any concerns you have.
Keep track of your teen’s actions and words that make you think she might be depressed. If you see a change in your child’s behavior, make a note about the change and when it happened. Include details like:

  • How long the behavior has been going on
  • How often the behavior happens
  • How serious you think it is

You can share these notes with your teen’s doctor. You can also use them to start a conversation with your teen.

Watch for signs that your teen may be thinking about suicide.
Most people who are depressed don’t attempt suicide, but depression can increase the risk of suicide and suicide attempts. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24.

These behaviors may be signs your teen is thinking about suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to kill or hurt himself
  • Taking dangerous risks, like driving recklessly
  • Spending less and less time with friends and family
  • Talking about not being around in the future or “going away”
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Talking about feeling hopeless, or very angry

If your child is showing some or all of these warning signs, get help right away.

Find resources for your teen.
If your child isn’t ready to talk to you about her feelings, there are still things you can do. Help your teen find resources online and in the community that are just for her.

Share these resources with your teen:

Make a list with your teen of other people she can go to with problems or questions – like a teacher, guidance counselor, or adult friend. Tell her about ways she can get information anonymously (without giving her name).

Remind your teen that you are always there if she wants to talk.

 

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