700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Screening for Depression: It May Not Be Mood Swings

Nov 24, 2021
Young lady looking out a window.

Being a teenager can be tough. Most parents expect that their teens may have mood swings, but sometimes those feelings of sadness can last longer and be more severe. Adolescent depression is common, with approximately 12.8% of high school students experiencing depression in their lifetime.

Compared to typical teen mood swings, clinical depression includes emotions that are more intense, last longer, and get in the way of doing the things they want and need to do. Some common symptoms of depression include:

  • Sad or irritable mood most of the time for at least two weeks
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities
  • Significant changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling tired or low energy much of the time
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Trouble making decisions, even simple ones
  • Thoughts of death or self-harm

One important way pediatricians promote healthy growth and development is through screening. Screening is when the pediatrician asks a child or family member to complete a test to see if a child might be experiencing a certain problem. As your child gets older, that should include questions that test for depression. In fact, screening all adolescents for depression has been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is a panel of experts organized by the federal government to establish guidelines for the treatment of a variety of health conditions in primary care.

There are several safe and effective screening tools to use. These screens often include questions about thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and give teens an opportunity to open-up about feelings that can be difficult to talk about. Depression screens are often administered during the yearly well child check but can be administered any time a parent or teen has a concern.

When a screen is positive, the primary care provider should talk with you and your teen about which symptoms are present, how severe the symptoms are, and ways that the symptoms make life difficult. In addition, pediatricians will also look for other conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD, and substance abuse that can occur in addition to depression. It is also important to assess for thoughts of suicide and risk factors for suicide.

Fortunately, there are several effective treatments available for adolescents with depression. The parent, adolescent, and pediatrician should have a conversation about the best next steps, which may include strategies to help teens and families manage depression, advice about sleep or stress, a referral for therapy, or starting medication. Some practices may have a counselor or psychologist to see in the office. Any teen with thoughts of suicide or self-harm needs additional assessment and a plan to stay safe.

Once depression has been diagnosed, it is important to follow-up with your pediatrician to see how your teen is feeling and if the depression treatment plan is helping. When depression is caught early, an effective plan to manage it can be created, allowing a teen and their family to live a meaningful life.

Here Are Some 24/7/365 Resources to Use Anytime You Are Experiencing a Crisis:

  • Franklin County Youth Psychiatric Crisis Line: (614) 722-1800
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Ayuda en español: 1-888-628-9454
  • National Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Cody Hostutler, PhD
Pediatric Psychology

Cody Hostutler, PhD, is a licensed pediatric primary care psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University. He obtained his PhD at Lehigh University.

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Kristen E. Beck, MD
General Pediatrics

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.