Research Report: Treatment for Children with Anxiety

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports the effectiveness of combined medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy for children with anxiety. The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, utilized sertraline, which is sold under Pfizer’s brand name Zoloft, to treat a majority of 488 kids, aged 7-17. Some of the subjects also received CBT, and some got CBT alone. The rest were given a placebo.

The results were quite convincing. While just under 60% showed improvement with either medications or CBT alone, over 80% improved with combined therapy. Under one quarter showed improvement with a placebo alone.

Zoloft is approved for treating adults with depression or anxiety, but only for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder in children. However, it is often prescribed “off-label” for use with children experiencing all kinds of anxiety disorders, such as separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and phobias.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recognized a risk of increased suicidal ideation in children, particularly adolescents, who begin taking certain anti-depressants, and in 2004 ordered strict warning labels on such medications. Since then, teen suicides have risen slightly, rather than decreasing. In the new NIH study none of the children attempted suicide, and researchers said they found no significant increase in suicidal thoughts among those taking sertraline.

The new study will likely provide welcomed information for a currently on-going congressional inquiry into ties between drug manufacturers and medical researchers, particularly those studying medications given to children.

The researchers in this new study, led by John Walkup, deputy director of Johns Hopkins’ Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said Pfizer did provide free samples of Zoloft to be administered, but wasn’t involved in other aspects of the study. The researchers did receive consulting fees from drug companies, including Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, and GlaxoSmithKline.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Reena

    November 4th, 2008 at 9:25 AM

    Teenage suicide is at alarming rate now. I really hope this medicine could help to reduce this rate. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) looks very promising. I hope CBT could be tested on adult individuals too.

  • Lisa B

    November 4th, 2008 at 9:33 AM

    That is very good news. Being the mother of a teenager who used to suffer from anxiety, I know how important effective treatments for anxiety in children are.

  • Larry_1950

    November 4th, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    Children these days …… so many problems. It’s good to know that there are many brilliant people working to help the children who have anxiety issues.

    @ Reena – I couldn’t agree more.

  • jeni

    November 4th, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    I too have a teen age son and hope that he never has problems with anxiety. I am very much in favor of medicine to help correct this and as a parent would use this treatment myself

  • Tawnee

    November 4th, 2008 at 11:17 AM

    I believe that children, especially at a younger age, are innocent. They need all the help they can get and they need the understanding from an adult, if not from a therapist. Some doctors, I know, are hesitant in prescribing meds to young children, in whatever cases. If the medicine helps the child,then I think it would benefit them.

  • Maggie

    November 5th, 2008 at 3:52 AM

    Where is all of this anxiety in children coming from? I believe it is because we no longer allow kids to be kids. There are so many pressures applied to them at such an early age- be involved in extracurriculars, make straight A’s in school, be the perfect child that I need you to be in order to reflect a positive image on me. Rarely are children given time to be free and just play and have a good time like they were given in the past. I see too many parents, teachers, etc who are contributing in such a negative way to the amount of pressure that children of all ages feel and then manifest openly. While I am glad that there are treatments out there which are working to help resolve many of these issues, these things are only a band aid which is masking the true problem. As a society as a whole we now expect too much from our kids and I personally think that the time has come to give them a break.

  • Shannon

    November 6th, 2008 at 3:48 AM

    Has there been any research done that shows any long term side effects all of this medicating of children can bring about? Didn’t I hear several years back that Ritalin could stunt the growth of kids? Are some of the meds being used now showing the same effects?

  • Irene Williams

    November 6th, 2008 at 10:31 AM

    I think Maggie makes a good point. We do not let children do what they want and have fun. We force them to study, get good grades and so on. Let kids be kids!

  • Nehaa

    November 7th, 2008 at 12:45 AM

    I agree with Maggie that there is too much pressure on the kids nowadays but unfortunately in these competitive times it just can’t be avoided. The next best thing to do is to seek medical aid so that the children do not have to suffer through the same anxiety syndrome that the adults go through. Jeni, I have a teenage son my self and examination days can be really nerve racking. If CBT helps,it is definitely a step in the right direction.

  • Johnson

    November 8th, 2008 at 11:53 AM

    I have to agree with Maggie as well but feel like this can be avoided. We are all so busy keeping up with the Joneses and their kids that we tend to forget about our own kids and their own unique needs. We profess to want everyone to be an individual yet when it comes right down to it we all try to make sure our kids and we are doing all that everyone else is doing. No wonder the kids are stressed- it makes me stressed just thinking about it! I am in no way innocent- I have found myself at times comparing my own achievements and those of my children to others. But at the end of the day I have to tell myself that this is not what matters. What I want more than anything is a safe and happy family, no matter whether or not anyone else thinks we measure up. I am the judge of that not society and I refuse to put this kind of pressure on myself or the kids anymore. We have to break this cycle because it can be avoided, we just have to work to make that happen!

  • Tiff

    November 10th, 2008 at 2:53 AM

    I agree we should let kids be kids, but also encourage them to do good in school and work hard. We shouldn’t expect our kids to do better than someone else.

  • Danielle

    November 10th, 2008 at 4:28 AM

    OMG let kids be kids and we will not have to worry about all of this!

  • Melanie

    November 11th, 2008 at 5:28 AM

    My main concern here is giving children so much medication and having no real idea what this is going to do to them later in life. There must be better solutions for a problem that is so preventable and avoidable. What kind of long term health effects are things like this going to have on our kids? I know one thing- I would have to think long and hard before agreeing to put my child on medication like this.

  • neena

    November 11th, 2008 at 7:35 AM

    Unfortunately most of us live our dreams through our kids. As parents we are always guilty of pushing our kids to achieve where we failed or ask them to reach greater heights then we ever did. If we just guide them and accept them as they are with all their success and failures, I think we will have happy kids who will not require any form of therapy.

  • Juanita

    November 13th, 2008 at 1:30 AM

    I dont think we should live our dreams through our children. They have dreams of their own. Helping them along the way is the reason we are here. Birds dont teach their children to fly their way or make nests where they did. Happy children are not children without responsibilities but children who know that responsibilities can be fun when there is a fun way of doing something good and tangible. A winner is someone who learns to have fun along the way and has time to stop and smell the roses!!

  • Ryan

    November 13th, 2008 at 4:05 AM

    Treatment for children with anxiety? Treat the parents- therein probably lies the biggest source of the problem.

  • Kiera

    November 24th, 2008 at 7:55 PM

    Anxious children??? What is this world coming to?? Have we forgotten what it means to be a child?!!

  • William

    November 25th, 2008 at 6:31 AM

    It is readily apparent that a number of the posters to this blog do not have any experience of living with a child with anxiety or understand anxiety. Many children suffer from anxiety not because of being “structured” or not being able to “play” but rather because of a chemical imbalance. Blaming the parents or suggeting play therapy entirely misses the point. These children suffer from anxiety regardless of the situation. Going to school, new situations, playing, are all anxiety producing.

    This study is a welcome development.

  • Jenina

    November 27th, 2008 at 1:31 AM

    My baby is 7 months old and suffers from a weird acidity condition. The paediatrician said he seems anxious. Could this be a chemical imbalance from birth? This did not develop suddenly and the baby always seems uncomfortable.

  • Megan

    January 6th, 2009 at 6:12 AM

    I am dismayed that there are so many kids having to be treated for anxiety. What on earth are we doing to our children today to cause them so much worry? We have got to get better at being a little more low key and slowing down to smell the roses. We have provided our young children with so much worry that they are unable to handle that it is sad that they are losing their childhoods over this. I never had to deal with this when I was growing up and do not think that any of my friends did either. But there are lots of kids the age of my own children that I know have to take medications for this.

  • Noreen

    December 4th, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    Excellent points.

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