Therapy program boosts teens at risk for depression

"Overall, these findings demonstrate the effectiveness of a cognitive-behavioral program for preventing depression and promoting competence," says Judy Garber. (Credit: Redd Angelo/Unsplash)

Teens whose parents have a history of depression are particularly at risk for developing it, too.

New research published in JAMA Psychiatry finds that a cognitive-behavioral prevention program for depression among at-risk youth proved beneficial within nine months, and positive effects remained evident more than six years later.

At four sites, the researchers randomly assigned 316 participants (ages 13 to 17 at enrollment) to a cognitive-behavioral prevention (CBP) program, or to “usual care” (any family-initiated mental health services). Participants had at least one parent with current or prior depressive episodes.

The CBP program is a modification of the Coping with Depression for Adolescents program, which emphasizes cognitive restructuring and problem-solving, delivered in a semi-structured educational format. The program involved eight weekly 90-minute group sessions, followed by six monthly booster sessions.

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The teens learned to examine the accuracy of their thoughts; engage in appropriately assertive social behaviors through group discussions and experiential learning (role play); and practice assignments designed to help them apply these skills in the real world.

There was a lower incidence of depressive episodes during the first nine months after enrollment for teens in CBP as compared to usual care. The positive effect of the intervention was maintained across the six-year follow-up period. Additionally, fewer days of depression during this period predicted greater developmental competence in early adulthood.

“Overall, these findings demonstrate the effectiveness of a cognitive-behavioral program for preventing depression and promoting competence,” says Judy Garber, professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development.

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“However, these results also highlight the possible importance of treating parents’ depression, either prior to or concurrently with their children’s participation in the CBP program.”

Garber and additional researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, and Harvard Medical School are principal investigators of the study. Grants for the work came from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Source: Vanderbilt University