Depression in adolescents, difficulties in diagnosing teen depression, treatment options, and hope for parents of depressed teenagers
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Teen Depression Improves After Long-Term Treatment

By Leslie Davis

When it comes to treating your teen’s depression, neither antidepressants nor talk therapy alone are likely to result in long-term relief of symptoms. The best way to cure your teen’s depression is through long-term depression treatment that uses a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication, according to the Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS).

The study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that long-term treatment of adolescent depression with both CBT and medication resulted in lower levels of depression and suicidal thoughts, even after treatment ended. Long-term treatment typically spans six to nine months.

“In contrast to earlier reports on short-term treatments, in which worsening after treatment is the rule, the longer treatment in the TADS was associated with persistent benefits,” wrote the study’s authors.

The study involved more than 400 adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were diagnosed with major depression:

  • After only the first 12 weeks of the study, 71 percent of the participants who received a combination of antidepressants (in this study, Prozac was used) and CBT experienced significantly improved symptoms.
  • By the end of the six-month study, the depression symptoms of 86 percent of the participants had significantly improved.
  • Suicidal thinking also decreased substantially.

Finding Treatment for Your Teen’s Depression

While the study had impressive results from a combination of medication and CBT, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating teen depression. Each teen will respond to treatment differently, and will require a treatment that is appropriate for him or her. The best treatment for your teen’s depression will use one or more of the following methods:


Prozac is the only antidepressant approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat depression in children ages 8 to 17. The medication should only be used to treat teenage depression if prescribed by your teen’s treating doctor.

Because antidepressant use can result in an increased risk of suicide in children and teenagers, your teen should be regularly and frequently monitored by the prescribing doctor, especially during the first few weeks.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a form of talk therapy that has proven effective for treating adolescent depression. This form of therapy can help your teen learn to manage the challenges of life through healthy coping skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, social skills and relaxation techniques. A therapist can also help your teen learn more about depression, its possible causes and how to manage it.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Therapeutic boarding schools provide a structured, nurturing environment for your teen to overcome depression. These schools offer intensive individual, group and family therapy while allowing teens to continue their education so they don’t fall behind in school. Counselors at therapeutic boarding schools help teens develop healthy coping skills and communication strategies.

Adolescent Residential Treatment

Adolescent residential treatment centers combine academics, traditional therapies such as CBT, alternative therapies such as equine therapy and art therapy, and esteem-building activities that can help teens work through their depression. In these settings, teens actively work to overcome depression and behavioral issues so they can re-integrate into their families and communities in healthy ways.

Wilderness Programs

Wilderness programs use nature to help teens learn to manage such issues as depression and substance abuse. Wilderness therapy provides a safe and inspiring environment in which to effect positive behavioral changes and give students a powerful foundation on which to build a more positive, productive life.

Depression is one of the most common disorders experienced by adolescents. About 5 percent of girls and boys have moderate to severe depression, which can cause difficulty with peers, at home and in school. Left untreated, depression can lead to substance abuse, eating disorders, self-mutilation and even suicide.

But depression is treatable, and your teen doesn’t have to suffer one more day. Find the long-term depression treatment that will work best for your teen, and your entire family may benefit in the process.

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