Should pediatricians routinely screen for depression?

Last Friday The CT Mirror published a report on using depression screeners in pediatric practices. Despite their success in determining whether an adolescent is struggling with mental health issues, they are rarely used on a regular basis. In fact, Lisa Honigfeld, vice president for health initiatives at the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, told the The CT Mirror that it is rare for pediatric practices to routinely screen for mental health problems period.

Obstacles include time constraints and difficulty finding and making referrals:

There aren’t enough pediatric mental health professionals in the state, so getting an appointment is tough. Then there are insurance issues. Some services aren’t covered by most health plans, and many clinicians in private practice don’t take insurance, leaving parents to pay out of pocket.”

Still, there are significant advantages to incorporating mental health screening into the routine visit. Adolescents may find it easier to reveal their feelings to a screening tool than during a conversation with their pediatrician, and it may help lower the number of youth whose mental health struggles remain unaddressed.

In Connecticut, The Child Health and Development Institute has been working to help overcome some of the obstacles pediatricians cite. For example, they have been working to connect pediatricians with community adolescent mental health providers.

Polaris Health Directions offers several automated systems for assessing and monitoring the mental health of children and adolescents. The Polaris systems were developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health, and are scientifically-validated and strength-based. The youth systems incorporate the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) scales.