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ABC15 News Special Report: Depression and anxiety on the rise in adolescents

(WPDE)

There's a good chance you've seen commercials advertising for anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Maybe you've taken the medication yourself.

Neighborhood pharmacies carry several different pill prescriptions. Doctors said it's one way to fight anxiety and depression.

"Annually, about one in eight teens have a depressive episode," said Becky Eglen, a doctor from the Conway Physicians Group. Eglen has been a pediatrician for more than 20 years. About 10 years ago, she said, her office took a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The screening is in the form of a Patient Health Questionnaire Test (PHQ-9). There are different forms for different levels of age groups. Essentially, it serves as a scale. You rate how you feel through a series of questions. It's a point system and the final score indicates to Eglen whether her patient is depressed. If they do show symptoms, she has to come up with a plan -- plans she didn't have to make before.

"There literally needs to be a written plan like, who you call, what do you do, where do you go, what do you do for help and that needs to be spelled out before you send a child home,'" she said, sitting in her office.

Each month, she creates more plans for young patients. She said they could be as young as 12 years old.

One aspect to the plan is antidepressant medication. She tries not to prescribe the pills unless it's absolutely necessary, she said.

Her first priority, depending on the situation, is to send patients to a counselor.

"I actually see a lot of kids who are willing to talk in counseling," said Sandy Quast, a counselor at Coastal Haven Counseling in Carolina Forest. "Because when a parent calls, I always say, 'Is the child willing to come to counseling?' And nine out of 10 times, they say 'yes, they wanna talk to somebody," she said.

According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in five adolescents from 10 to 21 years old suffer from depression at some point. But less than half are treated. These symptoms aren't new, but she said the cause is social media.

"What they're seeing out there is only people putting their best foot forward or pretending that they have these things and they're not putting out there their real-life struggles so, you know, kids feel like it's only them that has these issues and in reality that's not the case," said Quast.

Her treatment is counseling, but she'll admit that sometimes patients need pills.

Most recent data from Columbia University shows one in 10 Americans older than six takes an antidepressant.

"Just because you start one doesn't mean you have to live on one forever," said Dr. Christina Lynn, the executive director of Grand Strand Medical's Behavioral Health Center.

Figures from a 2009 Columbia University study show the rate at which antidepressants were prescribed doubled from 1996 to 2005. Experts said the numbers could be even higher today. Emerging technology is to blame, she said.

"Most of the surveys that have been done say we're still under-diagnosing by about 50 percent. That many people are not getting treatment," she said. "They're not seeking treatment and so, yes, use has increased in the anti-depressants, but we're falling far from where it is acceptable and where everybody will talk about it."

Dr. Lynn said having the conversation with parents, young adults and doctors is key, and having it early-on at your family doctors' office may just help spark more open dialogue. "It really is changing the face of mental health because these young adults that are growing up, they're not going to be afraid to ask for help."

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