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Study: Depressed children get only half the help they need

Study: Depressed children get only half the help they need



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Doctors are prescribing antidepressants for depressed children, but a minority of these children see a psychiatrist.

Even though researchers are learning more about how to treat children with depression, some child psychiatrists say many children who need it aren't getting appropriate treatment.

Primary Children's Medical Center Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Richard Martini said, "There are simply not enough mental health professionals, certainly not enough child and adolescent psychiatrists, to go around."

Martini says if doctors want to treat all child psychiatric problems across the country properly, roughly 20,000 child psychiatrists would be needed.

"There are only about 9,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists across the country right now, and, at best in the next 10 years, if everything works out perfectly we're not going to have any more than 12,000," he said.

To make up for this lack of counselors, many psychological problems are being diagnosed by primary care physicians. Many of these doctors rely on antidepressants, which are a valuable tool in therapy.

"Medications can sometimes take some of those extreme symptoms away and make it easier for them (patients) to talk about sensitive subjects," Martini said.

But a recent USA Today report says out of all patients who had antidepressants prescribed to them in 2006, just over 40 percent of children had insurance claims for therapy sessions. Doctors say strictly using antidepressants as treatment isn't necessarily bad, but it's by far not the best treatment out there.

The Children's Center Executive Director Douglas Goldsmith said, "One of the things we absolutely know is that if children are on psychiatric medications, they should also be having therapy, because the two, in combination, are much more effective."

Goldsmith says medications can treat the symptoms of depression; they don't change underlying behavioral patterns. But he doesn't feel primary care physicians who prescribe antidepressants without consulting a psychiatrist are overstepping their bounds.

"I really believe that for the most part, certainly in our community, the pediatricians and the family practice doctors are being very cautious," he said.

He says people in the U.S. sometimes rely on medication as a shortcut to fix depression, and if symptoms seem to subside, some patients may believe they don't need therapy sessions.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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Paul Nelson

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