Two New Studies on the Challenges of Treating Teen Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health complaints expressed by adolescents and teenagers, including both those who are in therapy or counseling and those who are not. Despite this fact, identifying teens with depression and getting them into effective treatment programs is still a challenge. As discussed in the comments of a recent post, primary care is not an ideal source of treatment for depression. But because adolescents often see primary care physicians for annual checkups, sports injuries, and the like, this can be a good place to screen for depression and identify teens in need of therapy.

To that end, Seattle Children’s, Group Health, and the University of Washington teamed up to assess the PHQ-9 depression criteria, which is commonly used for adults, to determine whether it’s equally effective in finding depression in teens. They put the PHQ-9 through rather rigorous assessment and trials, ultimately validating the test, deeming it “a good screening test for major depression in adolescents.” But what happens once teens enter counseling or psychotherapy for their depression? A new study, to be printed next spring in the Archives of General Psychiatry, assessed the short and long term recovery (up through five years) of teens and adolescents treated for depression.

The study found that although the majority of teens recover from depression after receiving therapy, medication, or a combination of the two, depression returns for about half of those individuals within five years. Recurrence was especially high for teens also living with anxiety and often returned with stronger symptoms, including stronger and more frequent suicidal thoughts and behavior. The study’s silver lining is the insight it sheds on the differences between recurring and non-recurring depression. Most of the teens treated for depression were responsive to treatment almost right away, but those who were partially- or non-responsive were at highest risk for recurrence. This may serve as a starting point to determine how therapy and counseling can better assist young adults struggling with depression.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Isabel

    November 5th, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    This kind of a procedure could also be initiated in schools where the students could be screened once every six months or so and those thought to have depression could then be instructed to go in for treatment.

  • gerrard

    November 5th, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    depression returning to haunt half the people is just so bad! this,in my opinion,is because the person although has now received counseling,continues to live in the same environment and may stop to practice the methods suggested by his therapist.its just like someone stopping to take medicines after a few months and the symptoms re-appear.

  • robyn

    November 6th, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    I would think that treating depression in teens would be hard for a number of different reasons. First of all they never even want to talk to an adult about anything so it would feel like pulling teeth just to get them to tell you if something is going on. Also it could be hard to determine if it really is depression or if it just the crush of adolescent hormones that is bringing on the mood swings and feeling crazy. Teenage years are some of the most conflicting and trying times of your whole life so to couple that with true depression has to be a real challenge to face and to then try to get treatment for.

  • Olivia Griffin

    December 15th, 2010 at 8:42 AM

    I can’t agree more with your post. Depression is a serious illness and unfortunately goes untreated way too often. It’s not something that you can just “snap out of”. There are various types of treatments for adolescent depression

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