Brief screening for adolescent depressive symptoms in the emergency department

Acad Emerg Med. 2008 Jan;15(1):17-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2007.00002.x.


Background: Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder among adolescents and is more prevalent among those seeking care in the emergency department (ED). However, adolescents are rarely screened for depressive symptoms in the pediatric emergency department (PED).

Objectives: To evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of one- and two-item screens for depressive symptoms compared to the 20-question Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CESD) among adolescents seeking care in a PED.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of a convenience sample of adolescents 12-17 years old presenting to an urban PED with subcritical illness or injury. Participants completed three screening instruments: the two-question screen, the single-question screen, and the CESD.

Results: A total of 321 patients were approached to enter the study, of whom 212 (66%) agreed to participate. Seventy-eight (37%) of the study participants screened positive for depression on the CESD using a cutoff score of >or=16. The two-question screen had a sensitivity of 78% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 73% to 84%) and specificity of 82% (95% CI = 77% to 87%) for depressive symptoms compared with the CESD. The single-question screen had a sensitivity of 56% (95% CI = 50% to 63%) and specificity of 93% (95% CI = 90% to 96%) compared with the CESD.

Conclusions: The two-question screen is a sensitive and specific initial screen for depressive symptoms in adolescents being seen in the PED. This quick, simple instrument would be ideal for use in the busy PED setting and would allow clinicians to identify adolescents who require more extensive psychiatric evaluation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / instrumentation*
  • New England
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Surveys and Questionnaires