Depression treatment for children: What works?

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Depression treatment for children: What works?


What's the most effective depression treatment for children?



For children, depression treatment may include psychotherapy either alone or in combination with antidepressant medication. Although opinions vary about which depression treatment should be tried first, a growing body of evidence indicates that the best approach for most children is a combination of both. Treatment is most often provided in an outpatient setting. Sometimes hospital care may be needed. The treatment plan must be tailored to the severity of the child's symptoms and how they affect his or her development.

Many types of psychotherapy are available. For depression treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy may be especially effective. Children who are depressed often have an unhealthy, negative view of themselves and their experiences. With cognitive behavioral therapy, children learn to develop a healthier, more positive outlook — which can help relieve depression. Sometimes it's helpful for families to be involved in therapy as well.

Antidepressant medication is another option for childhood depression treatment, especially when psychotherapy is unable to effectively treat mood symptoms. Untreated mood disorders in adolescents are associated with an increased risk of suicide. Some research also indicates a link between antidepressants and increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children being treated with these drugs, so it's important for doctors to carefully weigh the risks and benefits before prescribing antidepressants to children. Still, for many kids, the benefits of antidepressants outweigh the risks.

Antidepressants may be particularly helpful for children who:

  • Have severe symptoms that likely won't respond to therapy alone
  • Don't have convenient or timely access to therapy
  • Have chronic or recurring depression
  • Have a family history of depression with good response to medication
  • Don't have active substance abuse issues
  • Don't have bipolar depression or an active psychotic illness

Even when symptoms of depression go away, continuing psychotherapy or antidepressants for a time reduces the risk that depression will recur.

Remember, depression is as common in children as it is in adults. Early detection and treatment of depression is important at any age — and family support is essential. If you suspect that your child is depressed, contact your child's doctor or a mental health provider.

Last Updated: 2010-10-09
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