Depression Awareness: What Parents of Teens Should Know
We spoke with Dr. Matt Ruble about the importance of depression screening, diagnosis, and treatment to raise awareness about depression.
Depression Awareness for Parents of Teens
FFDA: Dr. Ruble, you continue to work to raise depression awareness and understanding. October is the annual National Depression Awareness Month. What message would you give to parents of teens?
Dr. Matt Ruble: Depression, on average, starts in teens and twenties to thirties. It generally takes FIVE years to diagnose depression. Early intervention plus personalized and precision treatment are critical to getting people well. In honor of Depression Education and Awareness Month, I urge caregivers to do the following:
- Get educated about depression. To start, use the resources available at familyaware.org. For more about depression in youth, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
- Take a depression screening test – for you, your loved one, your family, or your friends. Encourage others to take these tests too. For adults, you can use the Families for Depression Awareness screening tool. For those under age 18, visit the AACAP for information. (Click this link to download the Patient Health Questionnaire for Teens).
- If you have depression, seek treatment. If you need emergency care, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
FFDA: Why does it take so long to diagnose depression?
Dr. Ruble: Two of the most significant barriers to diagnosis are stigma and the lack of universal depression screening. The former inhibits people from disclosing symptoms and seeking help. The latter would serve to normalize conversations about mental health as part of overall health. Depression awareness and education will make a difference with both of these issues.
A Pediatrician’s Role
FFDA: What is a pediatrician’s role in diagnosing and treating depression?
Dr. Ruble: Ideally, the pediatrician is the gatekeeper or Primary Care Provider in charge of screening for, diagnosing, and starting initial treatment or referring to a behavioral health provider (psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, psychologist, licensed social worker, mental health counselor, etc.). The pediatrician and behavioral health provider should both test for depression (serial use of the PHQ-9, the standard test for measuring depressive symptoms), communicate with each other and the caregiver and teen, and collaborate on a treatment plan. In addition to depression screening, it would also help to have screening for substance use, ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, medical health conditions, and developmental disorders.
Depression After Age 30
FFDA: If someone makes it to their 30s without experiencing depression, does that mean that they are unlikely to get depression in their lifetime?
Dr. Ruble: Unfortunately, there is no year where your risk for depression “ages out.” Prevention, especially in high-risk children, has been proven to mitigate risk. Also, if you know that your teen has been exposed to adverse experiences in childhood, or that close family members live with depression, you can be more aware of depression signs and symptoms and be prepared to intervene early.
FFDA: Thank you, Dr. Ruble!