All Adults Should be Screened For Depression, Group Says

Depression is a common disorder among Americans and a leading cause of disability. The economic burden of the disease is also immense. An estimated $23 billion of productivity was lost in 2011-2012, according to a past Gallup estimate. Finding people with the disorder can be an important step, and on Tuesday, a government group reported that all adults should be screened for depression, including pregnant and postpartum women.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a group of experts that review the latest science behind health advice, released a new recommendation on Tuesday that all adults be screened for depression. The guidance is an update of the group’s 2009 recommendation, which reached similar conclusions but did not look at pregnant or postpartum women specifically.

The experts on the task force reviewed the latest evidence on depression screening, its accuracy and the potential benefits and harms of treatments. The researchers concluded that based on the latest available evidence, depression screening improves the odds of accurately identifying adults with depression. Screening in primary care is often done through questionnaires.

The new guidance suggests that all adults age 18 and older be regularly screened for depression, including pregnant and postpartum women as well as the elderly. Systems should also be in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, treatment and follow-up, they add. How frequently people should be screened isn’t yet fully understood.

When it comes to treatments, the researchers say the harm of depression screening is “small to none” and that treatment with cognitive behavior therapy is safe. Antidepressants were found to be linked to some concerning possible side effects, like suicidal behaviors or gastrointestinal bleeding, but overall the risks were low, they concluded.

“Although much progress has been made, there is still much work to be done,” Dr. Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine, wrote in a corresponding editorial. For instance, Thase suggests the ability to better match people with treatments that work for them could greatly improve the nation’s screening system. For now, clinicians can work to make sure people at need are promptly identified.

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