To determine if, in the short term, depressed adolescents attending routine NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and receiving ongoing active clinical care, treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) plus cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) compared with SSRI alone, results in better healthcare outcomes.
A pragmatic randomised controlled trial (RCT) was conducted on depressed adolescents attending CAMHS who had not responded to a psychosocial brief initial intervention (BII) prior to randomisation.
Six English CAMHS participated in the study.
A total of 208 patients aged between 11 and 17 years were recruited and randomised.
All participants received active routine clinical care in a CAMHS outpatient setting and an SSRI and half were offered CBT.
Main outcome measures
The duration of the trial was a 12-week treatment phase, followed by a 16-week maintenance phase. Follow-up assessments were at 6, 12 and 28 weeks. The primary outcome measure was the Health of the Nation Outcome Scales for Children and Adolescents (HoNOSCA). Secondary outcome measures were self-report depressive symptoms, interviewer-rated depressive signs and symptoms, interviewer-rated psychosocial impairment and clinical global impression of response to treatment. Information on resource use was collected in interview at baseline and at the 12- and 28-week follow-up assessments using the Child and Adolescent Service Use Schedule (CA-SUS).
Of the 208 patients randomised, 200 (96%) completed the trial to the primary end-point at 12 weeks. By the 28-week follow-up, 174 (84%) participants were re-evaluated. Overall, 193 (93%) participants had been assessed at one or more time points. Clinical characteristics indicated that the trial was conducted on a severely depressed group. There was significant recovery at all time points in both arms. The findings demonstrated no difference in treatment effectiveness for SSRI + CBT over SSRI only for the primary or secondary outcome measures at any time point. This lack of difference held when baseline and treatment characteristics where taken into account (age, sex, severity, co-morbid characteristics, quality and quantity of CBT treatment, number of clinic attendances). The SSRI + CBT group was somewhat more expensive over the 28 weeks than the SSRI-only group (p=0.057) and no more cost-effective. Over the trial period there was on average a decrease in suicidal thoughts and self-harm compared with levels recorded at baseline. There was no significant increase in disinhibition, irritability and violence compared with levels at baseline. Around 20% (n=40) of patients in the trial were non-responders. Of these, 17 (43%) showed no improvement by 28 weeks and 23 (57%) were considered minimally (n=10) or moderately to severely worse (n=13).
For moderately to severely depressed adolescents who are non-responsive to a BII, the addition of CBT to fluoxetine plus routine clinical care does not improve outcome or confer protective effects against adverse events and is not cost-effective. SSRIs (mostly fluoxetine) are not likely to result in harmful adverse effects. The findings are broadly consistent with existing guidelines on the treatment of moderate to severe depression. Modification is advised for those presenting with moderate (6-8 symptoms) to severe depressions (>8 symptoms) and in those with either overt suicidal risk and/or high levels of personal impairment. In such cases, the time allowed for response to psychosocial interventions should be no more than 2-4 weeks, after which fluoxetine should be prescribed. Further research should focus on evaluating the efficacy of specific psychological treatments against brief psychological intervention, determining the characteristics of patients with severe depression who are non-responsive to fluoxetine, relapse prevention in severe depression and improving tools for determining treatment responders and non-responders.