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Screening test validated for depression in adolescents

Joint UW, Seattle Children's and Group Health study is first to test PHQ-9 in teens

Primary-care clinicians know teen depression is common, but they've lacked a reliable screening test for it. Now researchers at the University of Washington (UW), Seattle Children's, and Group Health report the PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire - 9 item) is a good screening test for major depression in adolescents.

Led by Laura P. Richardson, MD, MPH, the team tested the PHQ-9 as a screening tool for depression in 442 teenage patients, age 13-17, at Group Health. The test is brief, available free of charge, easy to score and understand, and proven to find major depression (meeting DSM-IV criteria) in adults. This study, the first to assess it in teens, is in the November 2010 Pediatrics.

"This is important not only because depression is relatively common among adolescents, but also because we have effective treatment for them," said Dr. Richardson. She is an associate professor of pediatrics at the UW, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children's, and an affiliate investigator at Group Health Research Institute. "Primary care clinicians are advised to screen teens for depression," she said, "and they need a convenient tool like this."

The team compared the PHQ-9 to the more labor-intensive gold standard, an independent structured mental health interview (the Child Diagnostic Interview Schedule, DISC-IV)—and to published data on use of the screening test in adults. They found the best cut point for maximizing the PHQ-9 screening test's sensitivity without losing specificity (11) is higher among teens than in adults. But its sensitivity (89.5%) and specificity (77.5%) in teens are similar to those in adults. So the team concluded that the PHQ-9 is an excellent choice for providers and researchers who want to screen for depression in teens in primary care.

Reporters can request the full text of this article by contacting Debbie Linchesky at (847-434-7084), or Susan Martin at (847-434-7131).

UW Medicine

The UW Medicine health system includes UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital, the UW School of Medicine, UW Medicine Neighborhood Clinics, UW Physicians, Airlift Northwest, and the UW's partnership in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with Seattle Children's and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. UW Medicine has major academic and service affiliations with Seattle Children's Hospital, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Veteran's Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle and the VA Hospital in Boise. The UW School of Medicine is the top public institution for biomedical research in funding received from the National Institutes of Health. For more information about UW Medicine, visit

Seattle Children's Hospital

Consistently ranked as one of the best children's hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Children's serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical referral center for the largest landmass of any children's hospital in the country (Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). For more than 100 years, Children's has been delivering superior patient care and advancing new treatments through pediatric research. Children's serves as the primary teaching, clinical and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The hospital works in partnership with Seattle Children's Research Institute and Seattle Children's Hospital Foundation. Together they are Seattle Children's, known for setting new standards in superior patient care for more than 100 years. For more information visit

Group Health Research Institute

Founded in 1947, Group Health Cooperative is a Seattle-based, consumer-governed, nonprofit health care system. Group Health Research Institute ( changed its name from Group Health Center for Health Studies on September 8, 2009. Since 1983, the Institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems. Government and private research grants provide its main funding.

Rebecca Hughes | EurekAlert!
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