Depressed teens can benefit from a group cognitive-behavioral prevention program that helps teach teenagers how to change their thoughts and behavior.
The study found that adolescents at high risk for depression who took part in the cognitive-behavioral depression prevention program were significantly less likely to experience a new depressive episode compared to teens who continued with regular care. However, if the teens had a parent who also suffered from depression, the teen didn’t significantly benefit from the program.
As many as 20 percent of teenagers may experience an episode of clinical depression by age 18. Teens who have had one depressive episode are more likely to have a subsequent episode. Prior research suggests that children of depressed parents face a two to three times greater risk of developing depression themselves.
The 316 high-risk adolescents in the current study — considered a large, randomized clinical trial — were between the ages of 13 and 17. They were randomly assigned to either the prevention program, or treatment as usual, a condition that might also include mental health services if they sought them out on their own.
Teens in the study either had a history of depression or depressive symptoms. None of the teens in the study had other serious disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The subjects in the study were also not on any antidepressants, nor had they undergone more than 8 sessions of previous psychotherapy.
The cognitive behavioral prevention program group was exposed to once-per-week, 90-minute group sessions for eight weeks. This program was based upon prior research and designed to teach problem-solving skills and techniques to cope with negative and irrational thoughts.
Of those with parents who weren’t currently depressed, 11.7 percent of the teens in the prevention program suffered a new depressive episode during the nine-month follow-up period, compared with 40.5% in the usual-care group.
In the current study, the number needed to treat to prevent one episode of depression was nine, which compares favorably with the 10 to 1 ratio needed to treat with antidepressants.
The researchers noted that early behavioral interventions have previously demonstrated some success at preventing the onset of adolescent depression.
“The message to parents is pay attention to how their children are doing if they’re depressed,” Garber said. “And for public health policy makers the message is that it would be good to pay attention to prevention programs.”
The authors noted that only about one-quarter of depressed youth in the United States currently receive treatment for their condition.
The findings appear in the June 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.