Treatments for preventing the recurrence of depression in children and adolescents

Many children and adolescents diagnosed with a depressive disorder will experience a relapse or recurrence of their symptoms. Little is known about what treatment approach works best to prevent this from occurring, once a child or adolescent has initially remitted or recovered from a depressive episode. This review aimed to determine the efficacy of early interventions, including psychological, social and pharmacological interventions to prevent relapse or recurrence of depressive disorders in children and adolescents.The review included nine studies that assessed the efficacy of antidepressant medication and psychological therapies in reducing the risk of a future depressive episode in children and adolescents. Trials varied in their quality and methodological design, limiting conclusions that could be drawn from the result. Overall, the review found that antidepressant medication reduces the chance that children and adolescents will experience another episode of depression, compared with a pill placebo. Psychological therapies also look promising as a treatment to prevent future depressive episodes, however given the aforementioned issues concerning trial quality and design, along with the small number of trials included in the review, it is unclear how effective these therapies are at present.

Authors' conclusions: 

Currently, there is little evidence to conclude which type of treatment approach is most effective in preventing relapse or recurrence of depressive episodes in children and adolescents. Limited trials found that antidepressant medication reduces the chance of relapse-recurrence in the future, however, there is considerable diversity in the design of trials, making it difficult to compare outcomes across studies. Some of the research involving psychological therapies is encouraging, however at present more trials with larger sample sizes need to be conducted in order to explore this treatment approach further.

Read the full abstract...

Depressive disorders often begin during childhood or adolescence. There is a growing body of evidence supporting effective treatments during the acute phase of a depressive disorder. However, little is known about treatments for preventing relapse or recurrence of depression once an individual has achieved remission or recovery from their symptoms.


To determine the efficacy of early interventions, including psychological and pharmacological interventions, to prevent relapse or recurrence of depressive disorders in children and adolescents.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Review Group's Specialised Register (CCDANCTR) (to 1 June 2011). The CCDANCTR contains reports of relevant randomised controlled trials from The Cochrane Library (all years), EMBASE (1974 to date), MEDLINE (1950 to date) and PsycINFO (1967 to date). In addition we handsearched the references of all included studies and review articles.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials using a psychological or pharmacological intervention, with the aim of preventing relapse or recurrence from an episode of major depressive disorder (MDD) or dysthymic disorder (DD) in children and adolescents were included. Participants were required to have been diagnosed with MDD or DD according to DSM or ICD criteria, using a standardised and validated assessment tool.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently assessed all trials for inclusion in the review, extracted trial and outcome data, and assessed trial quality. Results for dichotomous outcomes are expressed as odds ratio and continuous measures as mean difference or standardised mean difference. We combined results using random-effects meta-analyses, with 95% confidence intervals. We contacted lead authors of included trials and requested additional data where possible.

Main results: 

Nine trials with 882 participants were included in the review. In five trials the outcome assessors were blind to the participants' intervention condition and in the remainder of trials it was unclear. In the majority of trials, participants were either not blind to their intervention condition, or it was unclear whether they were or not. Allocation concealment was also unclear in the majority of trials. Although all trials treated participants in an outpatient setting, the designs implemented in trials was diverse, which limits the generalisability of the results. Three trials indicated participants treated with antidepressant medication had lower relapse-recurrence rates (40.9%) compared to those treated with placebo (66.6%) during a relapse prevention phase (odds ratio (OR) 0.34; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.18 to 0.64, P = 0.02). One trial that compared a combination of psychological therapy and medication to medication alone favoured a combination approach over medication alone, however this result did not reach statistical significance (OR 0.26; 95% CI 0.06 to 1.15). The majority of trials that involved antidepressant medication reported adverse events including suicide-related behaviours. However, there were not enough data to show which treatment approach results in the most favourable adverse event profile.