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Long-term Depression Treatment Leads to Sustained Recovery for Most Teens

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Science Update

man and teen talking

Long-term treatment of adolescents with major depression is associated with continuous and persistent improvement of depression symptoms in most cases, according to the most recent analysis of follow-up data from the NIMH-funded Treatment of Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS). The report, along with a commentary compiling the take-home messages of the study, was published in the October 2009 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Background

The TADS team randomly assigned 439 adolescents aged 12 to 17 to one of four treatment strategies for 36 weeks—the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) only, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) only, the combination of the two, or placebo (inactive or "sugar" pill). After the first 12 weeks, the placebo group was discontinued, while the participants assigned to the active interventions continued treatment for another six months. Overall, the combination therapy was found to be the most effective in speeding up remission. Visit the NIMH website for more information about TADS results.

After the trial ended, the teens who had been assigned to the active treatments were assessed up to four times during the following year to determine if improvements were sustained over time. TADS treatments were no longer offered, but participants were encouraged to continue to seek treatment within their communities.

Participants who had been assigned to the placebo group received open treatment during the one-year follow-up period and were not included in this follow-up assessment. About 66 percent of TADS subjects (not including those who had been in the placebo group) participated in at least one assessment during the follow-up year.

Results of the Study

By the end of the 36-week trial, 82 percent of participants had improved and 59 percent had reached full remission. During the follow-up year, most participants maintained their improvements, and the remission rate climbed to 68 percent. However, about 30 percent of the participants who were in remission at week 36 became depressed again during the following year.

In addition, while 91 percent of participants showed no evidence of suicidal thinking or behavior at the end of the trial, 6 percent developed suicidal thinking during the follow-up year, with no statistically significant differences among the treatment groups.

Significance

The longer-term treatment of TADS, regardless of treatment strategy, was associated with lasting benefits for the majority of participants. However, a significant number of those who had recovered worsened during the follow-up period, indicating a need for continuous clinical monitoring and further improvement in long-term treatment of youth with major depression.

What's Next?

The final results of TADS suggest that for most teens with depression, long-term, evidence-based treatments are effective and sustainable. But future research should concentrate on improving treatment strategies to reduce the rate of depression relapse or deterioration. The authors suggest that a randomized maintenance therapy trial would help determine how long active treatment should last to ensure the effects of treatment will endure over time.

References

TADS Team. The Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS): Outcomes over one year of naturalistic follow-up. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2009 Oct. 166(10): 1141-1149.

March JS and Vitiello B. Take home messages from the Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS). American Journal of Psychiatry. 2009 Oct.166(10):1118-1123.