Teens and tweens are carrying a lot on their shoulders these days, including depression. It’s estimated that about 50 percent of kids who suffer from it, go undiagnosed. Because pediatricians are often in the best position to identify kids who are struggling, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for every child 12 and older to be screened each year for mental health issues.

According to Lane County Public Health:

  • 1 in 3 adolescents in Lane County suffers from depression
  • 1 in 4 adolescents has contemplated suicide in the last year
  • 1 in 5 adolescents has attempted suicide in the last year

“If you think about how many children that is in this county, that’s terrifying,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

A pediatrician for more than 25 years, Dr. Bradshaw says it can be difficult for parents to tell the difference between what is typical adolescent moodiness and what could potentially be something more serious. So, how do you know if your teen or tween may be suffering from depression?

“First off, depression lasts. It’s not like they have a good day and a bad day. Kids who are really depressed have bad day after bad day for weeks or months,” she says. “But don’t let it go on for months before you seek help. Your child’s pediatrician is a great place to start.”

Signs your child may be depressed:

  • A change in mood: your teen or tween is feeling emotional, irritable or angry.
  • Changes in patterns of behavior: they’re sleeping more, sleeping less, there’s a sudden a change in their friend group, or your child’s appearance.
  • Your child is withdrawn: spending less time with the family, more time in their room isolated from others, not enjoying things that used to make them happy.
  • Trouble focusing or making choices; their grades suddenly drop.

“These are all signals, and it’s easy to miss one, but if you’re seeing a bunch of these all together, that’s worth talking to your teenager and asking, ‘How are you really doing these days?’ And then be quiet and don’t say anything; wait to see what your kid will tell you,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

Diagnosing and treating depression
At Eugene Pediatric Associates, pediatricians screen adolescents for depression at each visit. It starts with asking them to fill out a questionnaire.

“And the kids might get sick of filling out the paperwork each time they come for an appointment, but we know that kids who are having big feelings will often share it in that kind of non-confrontational way where they can just write about it,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “So, if you are a parent at your kid’s doctor’s appointment, please do not fill out that paperwork for them and do not look over their shoulder while they fill it out.”

In addition, teens and tweens should have some one-on-one time with their doctor, so consider stepping out of the room for a bit. Encourage your child to be honest with their physician, and remind them that their doctor is there to help them.

Treating the whole child
Doctor Bradshaw recognized early on that caring for children’s mental well-being is a critical part of their overall health. As a result, in 2014, she integrated Thrive Behavioral Health into her pediatric practice. Mental health specialists, including therapists, counselors, case managers, a child psychologist and a child psychiatrist, are on-site to offer immediate help and support to families who need it.

For more information about Thrive Behavioral Health, click here.