Psychotherapy is most effective as treatment for depression in youth

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A new study conducted at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health found psychotherapy to be more effective as a first-line treatment for depression in young people than antidepressants, or other psychotropic treatments. The findings were published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

A team of researchers recruited 153 patients, aged 15-25, diagnosed with moderate-to-severe major depressive disorder, as part of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. The set of participants recruited were randomly assigned to undergo cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for a span of 12 weeks. They were administered either fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant or placebo, in addition to CBT.

By the end of their treatment, researchers found no drastic changes in symptom improvement between both groups, concluding that psychotherapy, in conjunction with fluoxetine, did not demonstrate considerable beneficial effects.

“The results suggest that we should really be focusing on providing good quality psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, to young people and keeping medication as the second line of treatment,” said Christopher Davey, a researcher and associate professor at Orygen.

“We did not find evidence that the addition of fluoxetine (rather than placebo) to CBT further reduced depressive symptoms in young people with moderate-to-severe MDD. Exploratory analyses showed that the addition of medication might be helpful for patients with comorbid anxiety symptoms and for older youth.”

The findings, researchers indicate, does not by any means derail the importance of antidepressants or its beneficiary uses for treating symptoms of depression. “Our study found some evidence to suggest that if antidepressants have a role, they have more of a role in people at the older end of our age range,” researchers stated.

“Antidepressants can be very useful for some people. Anyone considering the role of antidepressants in their treatment should discuss this with their doctor or clinician.”