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Shedding Light on Childhood Depression

Category: Patient Stories
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Patient talking to her doctor

Pediatric depression is a serious health concern in the Upper Midwest, where one in five youths struggles with mental health conditions and two young people die from suicide or drug overdose each month. In response, St. Luke’s Pediatric Associates and the Human Development Center (HDC) launched a pilot program in 2010 with the goal of developing a system of pediatric depression care management. The project is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health-Children’s Mental Health Division.

Atypical symptoms

According to project director Heather Winesett, MD, St. Luke’s Pediatric Associates, childhood depression is often under-diagnosed because it presents differently in youth. “Unlike adults who tend to withdraw, children and teens with depression may still spend time with their friends,” she says. “Their symptoms manifest more as behavioral problems, like doing poorly in school or getting into trouble.”

One of the project’s primary goals is to give primary care doctors the information, tools, and skills they need to screen and treat pediatric depression. On an even more fundamental level, Dr. Winesett says, the project enhances the discussion around pediatric depression. “One of the big lessons we’ve learned is that childhood depression is often associated with growing up in a stressed family environment,” she says. “Treating the child may mean involving the whole family.”

Interdisciplinary team

In addition to Dr. Winesett, the core team includes St. Luke’s Pediatric Associates, a child psychiatrist from HDC, two care coordinators and a grant manager from the Whiteside Institute for Clinical Research, as well as a steering committee comprising a child therapist, school social workers and members of the judicial system. Now in its next phase, the program will be expanded to some St. Luke’s family practice clinics with training on detection of pediatric depression and evidence-based treatment methods.

National day of awareness

On a national level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated May 9 as National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The annual event promotes the influence of positive mental health on a child’s healthy development from birth. Dr. Winesett concurs. “We now know that even infants can be depressed,” she says. “The earlier we can intervene, the better.”