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Teen Depression Screenings Should Be Mandatory

By Kate Sims

Physicians from the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force have proposed that screening teens for depression from ages 12 to 18 should be as regular as they receive physicals for school, said CNN last week. There are already systems in place for “high risk” students to be screened, but that doesn’t account for the ones that fall through the cracks. Last year’s numbers on teen suicides show that 17% of teens last year seriously contemplated suicide as a side effect of depression, and 8% attempted, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a touchy subject, indeed. But this idea of early testing may be the best break through yet.

There are a few oppositions to the idea of the screening, mostly focusing on the idea of prescription medicine and the results of such a large pool of teens. To elaborate, some antidepressants, like Prozac, can actually increase the risk of suicide in teens, as stated in the Los Angeles Times. Another is also the fact that teens are typically moody, and only about 5.6% of teens are affected by depression. While, mood stabilizers and antidepressants are the first thing that comes to mind as treatment, there are therapies that can be more effective than a pill. The major hurdle of the proposal is that the illnesses are unique to the person who has them, and where there is a broad range of treatments, there is a broad way to test for depression. It’s scary to think so, but any program has to trial and error to increase its efficiency. A program by Columbia University, called TeenScreen, has already been in effect in 43 states, gathering data on what works.

Within the last decade, advancements on the awareness and treatment of mental illness has grown exponentially. Mental illness is no longer just heard from misused legal cop-out, but from people of all walks of life. There’s a whole week dedicated to informing the public of the facts of mental illness. The field is still maturing, but there is a phrase that keeps surfacing: early diagnosis. I’d like to add that correct diagnosis at an early stage is also necessary. This is a prime issue with the screenings so far. There is no solid protocol, but there are several methods. Meanwhile, students who are good at hiding their symptoms, or are convinced “it’s just a phase,” go untreated and face the music alone, sometimes not making it to the end of the melody.

There used to be such a strong stigma on things like depression and anxiety that some kids, unknowing of what it really was, would fear what would happen if they talked to an adult. I was one of those kids. In my junior year of college, it took a very close friend to get me to seek help, where I was informed that I had been wrongfully diagnosed as a child. I’d like to quickly shout out to my mother for all she tried to do in secret to help. She had been studying child psychology before I came around. She knew from the get-go the doctors who diagnosed me weren’t right, but the resources to take care of me were not as available as they are now. And this proposed screening could only make treatment options far more available.

Teens who experience depression, anxiety, or any other range of mental illnesses, should have that opportunity where someone can see, assess, and offer options for treatment if they have a screening as regular as school physicals, or even more regular. Less students will fall through the cracks, and the stigma could be lessened by the shared testing, normalizing it. It is really no different from any known physical illness, as explained to me, it is just as biological (like allergies), where it could take some mental coaching (like physical therapy) or chemical rebalancing (like a prescription). No one person is the same, which can make treatment difficult to prescribe, but the earlier one can catch on, the better a chance of finding that person’s “medicine”.

Early and accurate diagnosis can lead to treatment that could save lives and lead to better lifestyles with adaptive tools for young adults dealing with depression and anxiety in the professional and educational world. As a child that was wrongfully diagnosed too early in life, I was treated with medicine that didn’t agree with me. Also, there was no interest in teaching me coping skills when my anxiety was overshadowed by a wrong diagnosis and adolescence. In fact, mental illnesses usually develop between ages 6-11, as stated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The task force proposes screenings for 12-18 years of age.  I feel that screening for things at an age where we haven’t really settled into our lifestyles will be beneficial for strong mental growth and social acceptance. It is definitely safe to say I fully advocate this proposal and happily await its practice.

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