(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) A pediatrician may be the care provider best equipped to identify adolescent depression. That's according to new guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
About 3.1 million adolescents suffer from one major depressive episode before the age of 17 and many of those cases go undiagnosed.
Pediatricians are often on the frontlines of children's health and they don't want any more kids slipping through the health care cracks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending teens get annual screenings for depression starting at age 12, rather than waiting until parents notice something is wrong.
Just like many parents, Sharon Thomas is in favor of anything that could help her 16-year-old's overall health, but adolescent depression is also personal.
"I lost my voice when I was five years old and I think when you go to different schools., you don't know nobody, and it would help me out," Thomas said.
Thomas grew up in Maysville. she says she doesn't remember how she lost her voice, but she does remember being bullied for her speech problems.
"People who make fun of you, who call you names, and that don't know you that caused more about the depression and not having nobody there for you," Thomas said.
Thomas believes annual screenings would have helped her deal with her childhood depression and that it's necessary given today's statistics.
"It's estimated that about one out of every five teens truly does suffer from depression, but of those five teens, two out of three are not getting appropriate mental health care," Pediatrician Cynthia Brownfield said.
Extreme cases of depression can lead to suicide, which is currently the second leading cause of deaths for teens nationwide with roughly 5,000 taking their own live each year.
Brownfield says she has used mental health screens with her patients for years, but teen or adolescent depression can be difficult to catch.
"I think one of the biggest problems with teen depression is they can hide it better," Brownfield said. "They know something is going on and they don't necessarily want to share and it's really difficult for a parent to look at their kiddo and say, 'I think they are depressed.'"
In addition to annual mental health screenings, the new guidelines suggest parents and pediatricians work together to develop a treatment plan and a safety plan as needed.
The safety plan should include securing firearms, medications and laying out emergency communication channels.