UT Southwestern Medical Center

Eliminating Depression in Youth: A Comprehensive Public Health Approach

Take Action

Connect with us

To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Youth depression is a serious and worsening public health problem with detrimental, long-lasting effects on school performance and social development. Especially distressing is the increased risk of suicide, the second leading cause of death among adolescents. Our society must address this devastating disease and care for those youth already suffering, especially socially marginalized populations that disproportionately experience significant barriers to care. Only an ambitious, population-based solution will eliminate the burden of youth depression. Our solution includes: school-based prevention and resilience programming and care linkage; universal depression screening, measurement-based care and care coordination in healthcare systems; innovative biomarker research findings disseminated into prevention efforts and clinical practice; and public health education, advocacy, and policy changes. Building from existing programs and past successes, UT Southwestern’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC) and the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) are uniquely positioned to deploy this model across Texas and beyond.

Problem Statement

Depression in youth is a serious public health problem. One in 11 children experience depression before the age of 14, and risk of depression doubles from late childhood to early adolescence. Up to 18% of youth will experience a depressive disorder by age 18. More than 17% of adolescents report having seriously considered suicide in the past year; suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents. Because adolescence is a critical period for brain development and the development of social skills/networks, undetected and untreated depression has far-reaching consequences for educational, social-emotional, and economic outcomes in adulthood. The CDC estimates that mental illnesses among children result in an annual cost of $247 billion due to their impact not only on children, but on families and communities. In Texas, home to approximately 1 in 11 U.S. children, the problem is compounded by high prevalence and unusually high-unmet treatment needs. Texas has one of the country’s highest rates of unmet need for child mental health treatment, with nearly one-third fewer Texas children receiving mental health care compared to the national average, and approximately 160,000 adolescents experiencing some form of depression each year. Many Texas children first receive mental health services while in foster care, the juvenile justice system, or special education instead of through their family doctor, school, or community. The problem is not that depression cannot be sufficiently prevented or alleviated in most cases, but that communities lack the education, resources and infrastructure needed for early detection and evidence-based treatment.

Solution Overview

The CDRC, in partnership with MMHPI, as well as a selection of Texas’ child-serving hospital systems, treatment providers, community organizations, and educational leaders, has a solution to tackle and eliminate youth depression. This solution requires both resolve and unprecedented collaboration among public and private sector partners, with commitment across all levels of stakeholders to target the issue and coordinate care from all sides. The model includes: 1) School-based prevention/resilience programming (YAM) and care linkage; 2) Universal depression screening and evidence- and measurement-based care (VitalSign6) and care coordination in healthcare systems; 3) Cutting-edge biomarker research, currently being conducted at the CDRC, to transform our understanding of the causes and treatments for depression, disseminated into real-world settings in real-time, and 4) Public health education, advocacy, and policy changes. Not only will depressed youth and families directly benefit from this approach, but benefits will expand to the larger community through systems integration that increases efficiency and access to care, increased productivity among youth in school and their working parents, and reduced healthcare and employer costs. We have already demonstrated promising and widely recognized results in North Texas. For example, with remission rates among our Mood Disorders Network patients that are on average 6 times the national average, healthcare systems throughout the state are eager to adopt our methodology. With additional resources from the MacArthur Foundation to fully invest in this comprehensive solution, together we can eliminate youth depression in Texas through a sustainable model that can be expanded to other states nationwide.

+ Read More

Project Funders

  • The Caruth Foundation
  • The Rees-Jones Foundation
  • Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) Program (Waiver 1.0)

More Solutions Like This

Highly Ranked

Mental health care

National Council for Behavioral Health

Improving the Mental Health of Young People in America

United States

Mental health care

Partners In Health

Unchained: Community-empowering, scalable mental health care for low-resource settings

Haiti, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Liberia, Malawi, Sierra Leone

Suicide crisis intervention

Wounded Warrior Project, Inc.

Ending the global suicide epidemic – beginning with veterans

United States, Canada, United Kingdom

Mental health care

International Medical Corps

Radically scaling mental health services to empower crisis-affected youth

Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, South Sudan

Suicide crisis intervention

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Troth Yeddha’ Global Center for Applied Indigenous Knowledge: Suicide Prevention

United States, Canada, New Zealand, Norway

Mental health care

Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI)

Filling the Mental Health Gap: Psychosocial Wellbeing for Africa’s Children

Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania

Mental health care

United Charitable

INSPIR3 Mental Wellness Center

United States

Mental health care

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

H.O.P.E: National Mental Wellness Tour and Black House Rock Toolkits

United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Load More