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"Very promising" findings on what helps teens with depression

For teens, depression can affect more than their relationships and educational achievement — it can harm their future prospects. But a new study suggests that many of these young people could reap long-term benefits from psychological counseling.

Depression can seriously impair people’s lives, and in many cases begins during their teenage years,” said Ian Goodyer, a professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge in England. “If we can tackle it early on, evidence suggests we can reduce the chances of severe depression returning.”

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According to background material provided in a university news release, psychological treatments are effective in the short term in about 70 percent of adolescents with depression. But it’s not clear how these patients fare in the long term, the study authors noted.

The study included 465 teens in England who had been diagnosed with depression.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of three treatments: cognitive behavior therapy (focusing on changing how people think); short-term psychoanalytic therapy (focusing on topics like dreams, memories and the unconscious); or a brief psychosocial intervention (focusing on strategies like encouraging pleasurable activities and combating loneliness).

The researchers found that 70 percent of the teens improved to a significant extent no matter which approach they tried. In those who benefited from treatment, their depression symptoms had declined by 50 percent over the next year.

“This is very promising, and shows that at least two-thirds of teenagers may benefit from these psychiatric treatments, which in theory reduce the risk of recurrence,” study co-author Peter Fonagy said in the news release. He is a professor with the Anne Freud Center and University College London.

“Of course, this means that there are still a substantial proportion of teenagers who do not benefit and we need to understand why this should be the case and find appropriate treatments to help them, too,” Fonagy added.

The study was published Nov. 30 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

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