Younger adolescents with depression—who access mental health services by age 14—are significantly less likely to experience clinical depression later in their adolescence than peers with equivalent depressive symptoms who do not receive treatment, according to a new study. This pioneering research from the University of Cambridge was recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry.
The Cambridge researchers believe their study is the first of its kind to support the important role that early adolescent contact with mental health services can have by improving a young person’s mental health at the time of treatment and throughout his or her adolescence.
This study found that 14-year-old adolescents with depression who had contact with mental health services saw a dramatic reduction in their depressive symptoms.
Interestingly, the cohort that received professional help also appeared to develop a type of mental health prophylaxis that made them seven times less likely to experience a major depressive disorder (MDD) by age 17 than cohorts who did not make contact with mental health services early on.
For this study, University of Cambridge researchers from the Department of Psychiatry recruited 1,238 14-year-old adolescents (along with their primary caregivers) from secondary schools in Cambridgeshire. The researchers closely monitored the teens for the next three years, until they were 17.
Throughout the study, the Cambridge researchers assessed the adolescents for depression and other mental disorders using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children Present and Lifetime Version (K-SADS-PL). The adolescents also self-reported their depressive symptoms using the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ).
In a statement to the University of Cambridge, Sharon Neufeld, first author of the study and a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry, said,
"Mental illness can be a terrible burden on individuals, but our study shows clearly that if we intervene at an early stage, we can see potentially dramatic improvements in adolescents' symptoms of depression and reduce the risk that they go on to develop severe depressive illness.”
Early stage adolescent intervention appears to create a long-lasting and protective ripple effect against mental health issues throughout young adulthood. Until now, the empirical evidence regarding the link between having contact with mental health services and subsequent mental health benefits for adolescents was scarce.
These findings drive home the importance of funding and facilitating early access to adolescent mental health services for young teenagers who are at risk for clinical depression and other mental health issues.
Hopefully, having a longitudinal cohort study of this caliber will galvanize policymakers and public health advocates to prioritize early access to mental health services for young teens in the near future.
Sharon A S Neufeld, Valerie J Dunn, Peter B Jones, Tim J Croudace, Ian M Goodyer. Reduction in adolescent depression after contact with mental health services: a longitudinal cohort study in the UK. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/S2215-0366(17)30002-0