BEAUFORT, Sc. (WSAV) – Studies show one in every five teenagers struggles with mental illness and now, the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking pediatricians to start asking personal questions.
“One of the biggest problems is the stigma behind depression and anxiety,” said therapist Debi Lyons, “I have kids that come in all the time and, ya know, ‘I have the flu, I have diabetes, I have some heart disease, I have a little of this, I have a little of that!’,” Then she whispers, “I have depression and anxiety.”
Lyons says kids think it’s a character flaw, not something that’s treatable.
It’s questions like: Do you have ‘little interest in doing things?’ or “Have you felt sad most days?’ that doctors say can make all the difference.
“If we could just identify problems up front, and start taking care of problems instead of these problems festering and nobody knowing about them, we do think it helps out,” said Dr. William Martin with Beaufort Pediatrics.
Just weeks after the February 14th school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) changed its guidelines for the first time in a decade, requesting doctors to start screening children ages 12 and up for depression.
At Beaufort Pediatrics, they’ve been using a basic questionnaire for more than a year.
“We’re using this questionnaire at all the check-ups,” Martin said, “We’ll pull it out at other visits and say ‘Hey, just answer this for me and see where we are…’ and it’s amazing what you find out that they’re just not giving you when you’re asking them the questions.”
Dr. Martin estimates about 10 percent of teens that come through their office struggle with mental health. They’re able to get them help by referring them to a counselor on-site and then sending them to outside therapists. The AAP even suggests doctors work with school resources as well.
“Often times, they don’t know or have the words to express how they’re feeling to either their parents or to their teachers,” Lyons said, “Make feeling depressed or lonely not a stigma… make it something that just is what it is, we all go through it. I think that is a great way to break the barriers.”
It’s breaking those barriers with simple questions, that could save lives.
Lyons points out that many kids don’t want to be honest with doctors in front of their parents, so it’s important to encourage your children to be open with the doctor, and let them know they are supported.