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Antidepressants are typically used to treat depression, but up to half of families with a depressed child decide against using these medications, according to the researchers. In addition, nearly half of teens who do start taking antidepressants stop taking the drugs because of side effects, cost or lack of benefit.
“Untreated or undertreated depression is a serious burden for many adolescents and their families, and the impact is often felt for many years after diagnosis,” said the study’s lead author, John Dickerson. He’s a health economist at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.
Dickerson and his colleagues examined the cost-effectiveness of talk therapy — called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — among 212 depressed teens in Oregon and Washington state.
Over a two-year period, depression-related health care costs for those who received CBT averaged about $5,000 less than for those who received usual care without the talk therapy, the findings showed.
In addition to the actual cost of delivering the therapy, the researchers included such things as the cost of medical and mental health services, hospitalization, and costs related to the time parents spent taking their children to treatments.
“Now we have evidence that CBT is not only clinically effective, but cost-effective as well. This is good news for patients, their families and health care systems,” Dickerson said in a Kaiser Permanente news release.
“Most other studies of CBT for depressed youths that we looked at involved a much longer treatment program than the one we tested,” he noted.
“We chose to test a ‘lean’ model with a smaller number of CBT sessions because such a model is more likely to be adopted by health care organizations,” Dickerson explained.
“It’s important for health systems and families to know that a brief CBT program is likely to improve mental health outcomes for depressed adolescents who decline antidepressants — and is also likely to be cost-effective over time,” he added.
The findings were published Jan. 19 in the journal Pediatrics.
— Robert Preidt
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