Jeff Angileri
Apr 15, 2009, 11:08 AM

For the first time, government experts are recommending that doctors routinely screen their teenage patients for depression symptoms. Dr. Ken Robbins at Stoughton Hospital says screenings are vital, but need to be done the right way.

You can say, 'are you depressed?', and they say 'no,' you ask parents and their friends, and they say 'yeah, they seem ridiculously depressed,' Dr. Robbins said.

In an effective test, Robbins says, teens answer questions about whether they have been feeling hopeless or irritable, if they have lost interest in activities, and if they have had thoughts of suicide.

Researchers say teens who screen positive for depression can be helped with antidepressant medication and behavioral therapies.

The risk is higher for kids who are depressed who are not treated with antidepressants, than those who are, said Dr. Robbins.

Untreated depression can put adolescents at risk for alcohol and substance abuse, poor school performance, teen pregnancy, and physical illnesses.

Because anti-depressants can cause mood swings and suicidal thoughts, doctors say teens undergoing therapy need to be watched closely.

It's really important to monitor kids closely, especially during the first month when they're on antidepressants to make sure that doesn't happen, said Dr. Robbins.

For parents looking for warning signs -- symptoms of depression include sleeping too much, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, and withdrawal from friends or activities. Doctors say depression screenings should start around age 12 or 13.