From the Associate Editor: Leaving Underserved Teens Behind

Kathryn Stamoulis

Kathryn Stamoulis

Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD
kestamoulis@hotmail.com

The US Preventive Services Task Force (2015) strongly recommended that adolescents, ages 12 to 18, should be screened for depression.  One of their recommended screening tools, The Beck Depression Inventory, could easily be taken online or at a pediatric appointment to quickly identify at-risk teens.

This is a significant recommendation as teenage depression is vastly overlooked and misunderstood as symptoms of teen depression are often confused for laziness, delinquency, angst, or perfectionism.  Even if parents are concerned about their child’s mental health, they often don’t voice their concerns.  According to Son and Kirchner (2000), “some studies have shown that only one third of parents who had psychosocial concerns about their children planned to discuss them with their pediatrician.”  The rate is even lower for parents with little education.

Identifying and treating depression can drastically improve a person’s life.  For teens it can improve their grades, reduce the risks they take, improve their relationships, and prevent suicide, the second leading cause of death for children 12-17 in 2010 (see Perou et al., 2013).  No doubt, the recommendation to screen teens for depression is essential, but the Task Force goes further by recommending “screening for major depressive disorder in adolescents ages 12 to 18 years when adequate systems are in place for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring.”

Their statement “only when adequate systems are in place” is surprising.  Think of all the children in our country who do not have “adequate systems” in place.  How long will it take to put such “adequate systems in place” for proper screening to occur?  In addition to misconceptions about depression and shame about voicing concerns, there are structural barriers that disproportionally impact the poor and middle class.  Health care is costly; time off from work is costly; transportation is costly.  For those struggling financially, health care becomes less of a priority.

We can’t leave teenagers behind because they don’t have educated, supportive parents and access to a full and comprehensive medical treatment team.  In fact, it is this population of teens without access to “adequate systems” that needs the most help.  Finding treatment alternatives to the couch is where Division 46 can possibly help.  Many members are at the forefront of telehealth that can help people who don’t have access to conventional psychotherapy.  Providing online resources, text support, and therapeutic apps are some ways to help teens who are being overlooked.

Public comments on this recommendation closed on October 5, 2015; however, Division 46 Members can still voice concerns or comment by contacting the Task Force at http://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org or by using #USPSTF on Twitter.

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