Posted On: June 3, 2009

Depression Prevention Works for Some At-Risk Teenagers

One in five American teenagers have an episode of depression before they turn 18. If untreated, adolescent-onset depression often returns during adulthood and becomes a chronic and persistent condition that is crippling and even life-threatening. One of the risk factors is having a depressed parent: that increases the odds of becoming depressed in one's teen years by two- to three-fold.

But an article appearing in the latest Journal of American Medical Association has good news, as reported by Shirley Wang of The Wall Street Journal: a multicenter trial conducted in 4 U.S. cities found that a group prevention program effectively reduced the risk of subsequent depression for a target group of teenagers.

The study involved 316 “at-risk” teenagers (ages 13-17). All had a history of clinical depression and parents who had had depressive disorders. The youths were assigned to either a group cognitive behavioral prevention program or usual mental health care. After 9 months of treatment, of the teenagers who were assigned to the group CB prevention program and whose parents were not depressed at the time of the study, only 11.7% had a new depressive episode. In contrast, among teenagers in usual care whose parents were not depressed at the time, 40% experienced another episode of depression.

Although the prevention program only worked for teenagers whose parents were not currently depressed, the new finding is still encouraging, shedding light on future research directions and clinical recommendations.

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