Treating Depression in Kids and Adolescents

By Caren Kirschner, M.D.

Over the last several years, we have been screening all of our adolescent patients for depression with a validated depression screen call the PHQ-9. It is not surprising that a large proportion of our patients screen positive. The rates of pediatric and adolescent depression have been increasing over the last decade. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only intensified this trend.

Our kids are dealing with so many overwhelming stressors, including the deaths of family members or friends, parental job loss/financial strain/poverty, social isolation, and school and extracurricular disruptions. These stressors may trigger depression under certain circumstances.

Depression is a mental health illness that can be no less painful or difficult as many physical illnesses. It affects all aspects of a child’s social, behavioral, educational, and physical well-being and development. And most devastatingly it can be associated with suicide.

The good news is that depression is very treatable.

There are numerous evidence-based studies that show that most kids who are treated effectively can achieve remission. The two evidence-based therapies include psychotherapy and medication. For example, The Treatment of Adolescent and Depression Study (TADS) looked at 439 adolescent aged 12-17 over 12 weeks diagnosed with depression. Those treated with medication and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) had a 71% recovery rate. The patients treated with medication alone had a 60.6 recovery rate vs CBT alone of 43.2%. The placebo group only had a 34% recovery.

In general, there is a lot of misinformation spread about mental health and its treatments. We understand that parents are concerned about having their children taking certain medications. The truth is that there are excellent studies that have shown that many medications we use to treat depression are safe and extremely effective when prescribed appropriately and in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Both Dr. Flynn and myself have both undergone training at The Reach Institute. This is an organization that serves to give pediatric primary care providers intensive specialized training in the diagnosis and management of mental health care. Please schedule an appointment with us if you have concerns about your child’s mental health so we can work together to get them the care they need.

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