Should Everyone Be Screened For Depression?

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
As our society begins to have more and more serious conversations about mental health care, we're starting to wonder about finding the best way to get the most people quality care. To that end, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that everyone between the ages of 11-21 be screened for depression every year, reports Science of Us. While this certainly isn't the first inkling of mandatory mental health screening out there, this one is particularly interesting as it's aimed at teens and young adults. Specifically, the screening would look for signs of depression, and help those administering the test distinguish any symptoms from those of anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or bereavement.
And in some cases — such as figuring out suicide risk — researchers argue that screening everyone is the only way to catch people who might otherwise fall through the cracks. However, although suicide risk and depression are closely related, they are not the same thing. And the most effective assessments of suicide risk are very specific so that they're easy for everyone to administer, and often don't even ask about some symptoms of clinical depression. In the past, researchers have been concerned that the risk of inaccurately diagnosing teens — often telling them they have depression when they don't — is too great to support such large-scale screening. It can be difficult to diagnose depression in anyone, but it's especially challenging to do so accurately in kids. And some critics worry that this may lead to unnecessary prescription of antidepressants. However, another major concern for this type of wide screening in kids and adults is privacy. Although one in 10 people in the U.S. will have depression at some point in their life, there's still a huge stigma in our country about actually admitting to dealing with mental illness. In one survey, 23% of respondents reported symptoms of depression, but more than half of them (58%) didn't tell their employer because they felt it would be too risky. Even doctors — about 30% of whom report symptoms of depression — are reluctant to admit that they're dealing with those symptoms. Screenings like this may make it easier for young people to be honest about their struggles and get the treatment they need. But, that information may go beyond where it needs to go — and even in the most supportive of environments, many are worried about how others might react to their diagnosis. It's clear that the idea behind the screening comes from a desire to provide care for those who might not otherwise get it. However, implementing those plans has to come with that same level of care, sensitivity, and respect.

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