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Depression screening advised for teens
Doctors advised to start routinely screening teens for depression

Date published: 4/19/2009


A recommendation that doctors routinely screen young patients for depression may increase the odds that a troubled child will get help--as long as appropriate follow-up care is in place.

The recommendation was issued last month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. It highlights the need to identify major depression in young people, who have a higher suicide risk than people in their older years.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for Virginians ages 10-24, and the second leading cause of death for Virginians 25-34, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.

Local mental health advocate Lynn DelaMer said she supports the screening recommendation, which applies to kids ages 12 to 18.

"I think the medical doctor's office is a good place to do it," said DelaMer, executive director of Mental Health America of Fredericksburg. "Just like they're checking you hearing and your blood pressure, [check-ing for depression] sure makes it seem like a routine thing."

But DelaMer worries that the area has a shortage of mental health specialists available to treat children and teens in need. And she worries that primary care physicians are having to become de facto mental health providers--whether they have the time or expertise to do it--because the area has a shortage of mental health professionals.

DelaMer stressed the importance of counseling for people diagnosed with depression. Physicians can prescribe antidepressants, but DelaMer said therapy, which can teach coping skills, should also be part of a treatment plan.

"I think [screening] is a great idea," DelaMer said. "I just want to make sure that if they're going to medicate, that they also refer them [to a counselor]. Not to say that meds aren't important, but both are critical to really giving the person some mental wellness."

Local pediatrician Roxanne Allegretti said she shares DelaMer's concern that the area lacks enough mental health specialists to treat young people.

The government task force recommended depression screening only "when systems are in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, psychotherapy [cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal], and follow-up."

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To get free, confidential information about mental health care, including referrals to counselors and psychiatrists in the Fredericksburg area, call the Mental Health HelpLine at 540/371-2704 or 800/684-6423. The line is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. At other times, try the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board at 540/373-6876. Or, call Snowden at Fredericksburg, a behavioral health center affiliated with Mary Washington Hospital, at 540/741-3900.

For online help, visit the Mental Health America of Fredericksburg Web site at mhafred.org.