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PHQ-9 Test Screens for Teen Depression

New Screening Test for Teen Depression A major component of health reform involves a more active role for primary care physicians in diagnosing and caring for individuals with depression.

As such, 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 that the old standard Patient Health Questionnaire – 9 item version (PHQ-9) is also 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, ages 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 journal of 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.

“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 is higher among teens than in adults. But its sensitivity (89.5 percent) and specificity (77.5 percent) 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.

Source: Group Health Research Institute

PHQ-9 Test Screens for Teen Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2020). PHQ-9 Test Screens for Teen Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 7 May 2020 (Originally: 2 Nov 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 7 May 2020
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