Half of Depressed Teens Likely to Relapse

Teen Angst by Nathan Csonga
Teen Angst by Nathan Csonga

Teen Angst by Nathan Csonga

Depression among adolescents is, unfortunately, a common problem, affecting nearly 5% of boys and almost 6% of girls. Although research has identified effective treatment, long-term outcomes are rarely examined. A study published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry (a JAMA journal) suggests that, even after receiving treatment, nearly half of depressed teens are likely to experience a relapse within 5 years.

Dr. John Curry and his colleagues tracked depressed adolescents over a 5 year period following treatment with medication, therapy, a combination of the two, or a placebo. Treatment was effective, with nearly 70% recovering by 1 year, and 91.5% recovering by 2 years. However, regardless of the treatment used and the teens’ response, more than half of the females and one third of the males relapsed within 5 years. Relapse rates were even higher for youth with co-occurring anxiety disorders, 62% of whom relapsed within 5 years following treatment.

What do these results mean? First, it’s important to note that short-term medical and/or psychological treatment can be effective. However, for teens, a brief intervention may not prevent a return of depression years later, so ongoing monitoring and communication between adolescents and their parents remains important. The researchers reached this conclusion about their findings:

The finding that recurrence rates increased significantly from 2 to 3 years after baseline suggests that recurrence prevention efforts, such as symptom or medication monitoring or CBT booster sessions, may be of value…

In other words, it may be helpful for youth to return to treatment a few years later for a reminder of strategies that were helpful previously, or to identify a return of symptoms before they reach a clinical level of severity. These “booster sessions” might be helpful in preventing a reoccurrence of depression.

Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only, and are not intended to replace professional or medical advice. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.

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