Depressive disorder in youth: New hope of prevention

By Dr. Ralph E. Jones Mental Health

A recent study conducted by investigators at the University of Vermont have concluded that young people at risk for depression are less likely to develop the disorder after a cognitive-behavioral prevention (CBP) program.

The investigators led by David A. Brent, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, Vermont, offer hope that “CBP forms the basis of a promising intervention and that the prevention of depression is possible and can have longer-term developmental consequences.”

The study, utilizing CBP, involved 316 at-risk 13-17 year-old youths, and was carried out over a six-year period … a longitudinal (long term) study that included cognitive behavioral counseling; emphasizing cognitive restructuring and problem-solving in a structured, educational format. All participants in the program had at least one parent with current or prior depressive episodes, and at enrollment the participants were not currently experiencing a depressive episode but had some depressive symptoms or had a previous depressive episode that was currently in remission.

The participants were involved in a course of eight weekly 90-minute group sessions, followed by six monthly continuation sessions.

Included in the course of therapy was family-initiated mental health treatment.

Although Cognitive-Behavior therapy is not new, having been in use by Counselors since the 1960s, the approach as a tool for prevention of Depressive Disorders is; and appears to hold much promise.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), first introduced as a therapy/counseling modality by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck, and other noted psychiatrists of the era; is a method of teaching a patient/client to examine his thoughts about a subject (cognition), and to change the thoughts in order to have a healthy and productive behavioral outcome. CBT is a highly recognized and utilized modality of counseling today, an “evidenced based” modality in accepted practice among mental health and substance abuse practitioners.

At risk youth, those youth who have a parent with depression, suffer from the effects of neglect or abuse, etc., are particularly subject to developing Depressive Disorders. In the United States, 5 percent of children ages 12-18 suffer from a Depressive Disorder, which accounts for millions of children. In Texas, survey reports tell us that 29 percent of students in grades 9-12 had depressive symptoms during the 12 months prior to the survey. The survey further reported that 8 percent of adolescents, ages 12-17, had at least one major depressive episode during the year; and most seriously, 16 percent of high school students considered attempting suicide, 11 percent had attempted suicide, and 3 percent of the suicide attempts led to injury, poisoning or overdose that had to be treated by a nurse or a doctor.

As I have pointed out previously, in my many articles, Clinical Depression; whether it be with adults or children, is a very serious and debilitating disorder. The Vermont study concluded most successfully, with 88 percent of the youth continuing in the program and its follow-up sessions until the end, and appeared to fend off youth developing a major depressive disorder.

I would that all of our school districts take note of this study, and institute a Cognitive-Behavioral Program (CBP) within their schools, most specifically from junior high school through high school; the years when at-risk youth are most susceptible to depressive disorders. Most, if not all, school counselors have some training in CBT method and techniques as part of their Masters Level training, and under the supervision of a consulting psychologist or psychiatrist; can identify at-risk students in their school, and are capable of introducing the program to the schools.

As a longtime proponent of prevention efforts in regards to mental illness and substance use disorders, and treating many children and adults, I can attest to the need for early intervention and counseling for at-risk youth. I am very much aware of current prevention education practices in schools and communities, but education alone is not enough. I believe that an action oriented program such as CBP will help those at-risk children tremendously, and also will save lives.

Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!

Author: Ralph E. Jones