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What Does the USPSTF Recommend? Screening for Depression and Suicide Risk in Children and Adolescents

New recommendations by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) seek to address the mental health crisis plaguing American youth—a crisis only exacerbated by the challenges and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time, the volunteer panel, comprising national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, calls for screening children ages 8 to 18 for anxiety. The USPSTF also reaffirmed its recommendation on Screening for Depression and Suicide Risk in Children and Adolescents. Following is a brief overview of what physicians should know.

Young woman sitting on the ground holding her head against her knees with a cartoon speech bubble indicating a despondent mood

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  1. The USPSTF recommends...

    Screening adolescents ages 12 to 18 for major depressive disorder. As for children age 11 and younger, the task force finds there’s not sufficient evidence to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for depression. Neither is there sufficient evidence to assess the balance and harms of screening children and adolescents for suicide risk. More studies are needed.

  2. This applies to...

    Children and adolescents age 18 and younger who do not have a diagnosed depressive disorder and are not exhibiting recognized signs or symptoms of depression.

  3. Implement this recommendation by...

    Being aware of risk factors, signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, listening to patient concerns, and working with the patient and parents/guardians to determine the best treatment options. These include pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, and collaborative care—the latter of which involves a primary care provider, behavioral health care manager, and psychiatrist teaming up to deliver an integrated care plan.

    The goal of this USPSTF recommendation is to ensure that children and adolescents who need help can get it. "Nationwide, too many young people—too many children, too many teens—are experiencing mental health conditions," says Martha Kubik—PhD, RN, USPSTF member and coauthor of both statements—in an interview with JAMA. "The good news, however, is screening can help identify anxiety and depression in older children and teens so they can get connected to the care they need to get better." See the full recommendation statement for more info.

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