Screening Children for Depression at Age 12

The US preventive Services Task Force recently released their recommendation for screening children for depression starting at the age of 12.

This recommendation was previously made in 2009 and as in 2009, the task force continued to conclude that they don’t have enough evidence to recommend the same screening for children 11 and younger because of limited studies that assessed screening instruments for younger children.

Finally! For years, mental health professionals didn’t even believe that children could get depressed, sadly missing the boat on something that should have been obvious. Then the field collectively acknowledged that it was wrong, and the price is still being paid in terms of all we don’t know about the onset and course of children’s depression.

Despite starting to do more to screen for depression in adults and young adults/adolescents, we’re still missing the chance to identify the youngest people suffering depression. That’s unfortunate because this is the population for whom we could be making the most impact in terms of both prevention and treatment.

We have ample evidence that childhood anxiety is a typical precursor to the eventual co-morbid depression that appears later in adolescence and adulthood, so why not assess for anxiety as a preventive opportunity? Even before screening children for depression, why not assess parent’s level of anxiety and depression (known risk factors for their children’s mental health)? If we can get to the parents, and teach them the skills they need to help their children better manage their feelings (emotional self-regulation), we could be preventing anxiety and depression in the next generation and beyond.