Depression in children and adolescents: Evaluation and treatment

Shelley S. Selph, Marian S. McDonagh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The prevalence of major unipolar depression in children and adolescents is increasing in the United States. In 2016, approximately 5% of 12-year-olds and 17% of 17-year-olds reported experiencing a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months. Screening for depression in adolescents 12 years and older should be conducted annually using a validated instrument, such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9: Modified for Teens. If the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment should be initiated for persistent, moderate, and severe depression. Active support and monitoring may be sufficient for mild, self-limited depression. For more severe depression, evidence indicates greater response to treatment when psychotherapy (e.g., cognitive behavior therapy) and an antidepressant are used concurrently, compared with either treatment alone. Fluoxetine and escitalopram are the only antidepressants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of depression in children and adolescents. Fluoxetine may be used in patients older than eight years, and escitalopram may be used in patients 12 years and older. Monitoring for suicidality is necessary in children and adolescents receiving pharmacotherapy, with frequency of monitoring based on each patient's individual risk. The decision to modify treatment (add, increase, change the medication or add psychotherapy) should be made after about four to eight weeks. Consultation with or referral to a mental health subspecialist is warranted if symptoms worsen or do not improve despite treatment and for those who become a risk to themselves or others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-617
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican family physician
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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