Diagnoses and Treatment After Depression Screening in Primary Care Among Youth

Published:November 17, 2021DOI:


      Depression screening is universally recommended for adolescents presenting in primary care settings in the U.S. However, little is known about how depression screening affects the likelihood of being diagnosed with a mental disorder or accessing mental health care over time.


      This longitudinal cohort study used insurance claims data from adolescents who attended a well-visit between 2014 and 2017. Propensity score matching was used to compare adolescents who were screened for depression with similar unscreened adolescents. Diagnoses and treatment uptake were examined over a 6-month follow-up and included depression diagnoses, mood-related diagnoses, antidepressant medications, any mental health medication, and psychotherapy. Heterogeneity of associations by sex was also examined. Analyses were conducted from December 2020 to June 2021.


      The sample included 57,732 adolescents (mean age, 14.26 years; 48.9% female). Compared with adolescents who were not screened for depression, adolescents screened for depression were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with depression (risk ratio=1.30, 95% CI=1.11, 1.52) and 17% more likely to receive a mood-related diagnosis (risk ratio=1.17, 95% CI=1.08, 1.27) but were not more likely to be treated with an antidepressant medication (risk ratio=1.11, 95% CI=0.82, 1.51), any mental health medication (risk ratio=1.15, 95% CI=0.87, 1.53), or psychotherapy (risk ratio=1.13, 95% CI=0.98, 1.31). Associations were generally stronger among female adolescents.


      Adolescents who were screened for depression during a well-visit were more likely to receive a diagnosis of depression or a mood-related disorder in the 6 months after screening. Future research should explore methods for increasing treatment uptake after screening.
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