Research study looks for answers to treating teenage depression

December 03, 2001

Teenagers are notorious for being moody or having "the blues." Research has shown that half of all teenagers experience depression, and at least 5 percent suffer from major depression that interferes with home, school and social life and may lead to suicidal behaviors.

Major depressive disorder, which costs over $40 billion annually to treat, includes as symptoms persistent sadness and hopelessness, low self-esteem, changes in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawal from friends and activities, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.

Often, as in the treatment of adults with this condition, adolescents with depression may receive inadequate care and experience a recurrence of depressive symptoms.

How can parents distinguish between normal teenage "angst" and major depressive disorder? And what is the appropriate method or methods for treating depression in teenagers?

Northwestern University Medical School is one of 12 leading medical centers to participate in a National Institute of Mental Health-sponsored Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS) that may find some answers. The NIMH's goal is to determine the effectiveness of drug therapy or psychotherapy alone or in combination for treating major depression in teenagers.

Mark A. Reinecke, chief of psychology at the Medical School and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, is the principal investigator on the study, which will be administered on an outpatient basis at NMH's Warren Wright Adolescent Center.

"Depression is a common and serious illness in teenagers, and it is important to identify and treat it early," Reinecke said. Although many treatments for depression have been shown to be effective, their actual clinical benefit and burden of side effects are not well known. "We hope that this study will help establish a new standard of care for depressed teenagers, whether that's medication, cognitive behavior therapy or a combination, Reinecke said.

To be eligible for the study, participants must be between the ages of 12 and 17, have clinician-diagnosed depression of at least six-weeks' duration, have an I.Q. above 80 and be medication free before starting the study. Families will be compensated for participating in the study.

The medication administered in the study has not been approved for use in children and adolescents, and its use in this study is considered investigational. Participants selected to receive the study medication will receive either the study medication or a placebo (sugar pill).

Teens who are not eligible for the study will receive a referral for treatment of their condition.
For information about TADS, call 312-694-TADS (8237).

Northwestern University

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