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Depression Health Center

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Most Depressed Teens Recover, but Many Relapse

Nearly Half of Depressed Teens, Particularly Girls, Relapse Within 5 Years
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 1, 2010 -- Nearly all teenagers treated for major depression will recover, but a new study shows that nearly half will have a recurrence.

Researchers found that 96% of depressed teens recovered with treatment. But nearly half relapsed with another episode of major depression within five years, and girls were at higher risk of relapsing.

"We need to learn why females in this age range have higher chances of descending into another major depression after they have made a recovery," researcher John Curry, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Duke University, says in a news release.

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues among adolescents and affects about 5.9% of females and 4.6% of males. Symptoms include depressed mood, lost of interest in everyday activities, changes in eating and sleeping habits, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts.

Recovery Possible but Relapse Risk Real

The study, published in the Archives of Adolescent Psychiatry, followed the progress of 86 male and 110 female adolescents who participated in a 12-week depression treatment study. Study participants were randomly assigned to receive the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac), cognitive behavioral therapy, their combination, or placebo. After their initial 12-week treatment, the participants were followed for five years.

The results showed that 96% of the participants had recovered during the follow-up period, and the most effective depression treatment was a combination of fluoxetine and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Of the 189 participants who recovered, 88 or nearly half experienced a relapse of major depression within five years.

Researchers found the risk of relapse was not lower among those who received the most effective depression treatment. They found that teens who responded fully or partially to their short-term depression treatment were less likely to have a recurrence of depression than teens who did not respond to treatment (43% vs. 68%).

Teens who also had an anxiety disorder also had a higher risk of depression relapse (62% of those with an anxiety disorder had a relapse vs. 42% of those without).

Teenage Girls Face Repeat Depression Risk

Teenage girls were much more likely to have a recurrent episode of depression than boys, with 57% of girls experiencing a relapse compared with 33% of boys.

"Further research needs to be done to confirm our findings and to sort out the variables that may be associated with recurrent major depression in young women," Curry says.

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