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Effective treatments for kids with anxiety disorders

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study confirms there are highly effective treatments for kids with anxiety.

Most young people who suffer from moderate to severe anxiety disorders can be successfully treated, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

For the study, researchers followed 412 children and adolescents aged 7 to 17 who received treatment for anxiety disorders over a period of 12 weeks.

The majority of the youth responded positively to one of the following three treatments: 1) cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT; 2) sertraline, an antidepressant medication, such as Zoloft; or 3) a combination of both.

Particularly noteworthy is that the youth continued to respond well to treatment over a 6-month follow-up period, which included monthly booster sessions.

Indeed, more than 80 percent of the participants in the study responded positively after completing 12 weeks of acute treatment. The youth were also offered six additional monthly booster sessions. Those who were treated initially with medication continued these sessions.

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No matter how well they responded by week 12, all of the youth participants were re-evaluated by trained health professionals at months 3 and 6 following the initial 12-week treatment period – and, again, over 80 percent rated as positive responders. Among them, 27 percent also received outside psychotherapy and/or medication for symptoms related to mental health during the 6-month follow-up period.

When breaking down the three different treatments, 95 percent of the children and adolescents who received a combination of CBT and sertraline responded positively to the combo treatment. For those who were treated only with CBT or only with sertraline, around 85 percent were rated as positive responders; thus, the best responders were those treated with a combination of CBT and sertraline medication.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems in children and adolescents, but such problems are frequently under-diagnosed or overlooked completely – even though severe anxiety can have a major negative impact on a child’s functioning at home and in school.

If left untreated, anxiety can progress into full-blown depression, leading to all kinds of problems, including alcohol and drug abuse, as well as work-related impairments in adulthood.

This study was one of the largest ever conducted on anxiety in children and adolescents, and all of the youth participating suffered from moderate to severe anxiety disorders that ranged from generalized anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder, to social phobia – with the majority of participants having several of these or other mental health disorders.

Study leader, Dr. John Piacentini of UCLA, said that the study’s findings show additional evidence that supports the benefits of CBT and medications like sertraline (an SSRI often used to treat depression), whether used alone or in combination to treat anxiety in children and adolescents.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 24 and 36 Week Outcomes for the Child/Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS), John Piacentini, Ph.D., et al, published online December 2, 2013 (DOI:10.1016/j.jaac.2013.11.010).