Warning signs for childhood depression

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New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that pediatricians should be screening patients ages 12 and older for mental health issues like depression during their check-ups.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that pediatricians should be screening patients ages 12 and older for mental health issues during their check-ups.

Dr. Alfonso Mercado, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, says that the new guidelines reiterate the importance of primary care physicians always taking into consideration the mental health of their patients.

The study published on Monday encourages pediatricians to ask patients to talk openly about their feelings without a parent in the room, and then for parents or caregivers to speak with the pediatrician separately.

“Many times the families report the concerns initially,” Dr. Mercado said. “Whether we’re looking at a significant shift in their daily functioning.”

These signs include sleep problems, loss of appetite, feeling hopeless or guilty or frequently feeling physically ill.

The most difficult to spot is depression. The research shows that one in five teens will experience depression and many go undiagnosed.

“Many times, depression is manifested externally,” said Mercado. “So, that’s why we see aggression in children, behavioral problems in the school setting and in the home setting.” 

Mercado says there is also stigma towards mental health, and that parents should be view mental health as a part of their child’s entire well-being.

“People need to realize that these symptoms that they are experiencing are common, and there are treatments – effective treatments for them and people do get better,” said Mercado.

Any questions about mental health should be directed to the child’s physician. Guidance can also be found by calling the Tropical Texas Behavioral Health crisis hotline at 1-877-289-7199.

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