Although depression in teenagers is common, primary care clinicians have lacked a reliable screening test to identify the disorder until now.

Richardson and colleagues from the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s and Group Health Research Institute determined that sensitivity (89.5%) and specificity (77.5%) levels for the Patient Health Questionnaire – 9 item (PHQ-9) are similar in adolescents and adults – making it an excellent choice for clinicians who want to screen teens for depression.

“This is important not only because depression is relatively common among adolescents, but also because we have effective treatment for them,” study researcher and adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s, Laura P. Richardson, MD, MPH, said in a press release. “Primary care clinicians are advised to screen teens for depression and they need a convenient tool like this.”

The researchers compared PHQ-9 results from 442 teenagers aged 13-to-17 years to published data regarding the efficacy of the screening test in adults, and also to the Child Diagnostic Interview Schedule, a more labor-intensive mental health interview. The full study was published online today in Pediatrics.

The test is easy to score and interpret, according to the researchers, and is freely available online.