Behavioral Therapy and the Medications used to treat Teenage Depression


In closing our story of Gracie and her struggles with depression in my last post, I pointed out that childhood and teen depression needs to be dealt with promptly to avoid serious consequences such as failure in teen and adult life and of course the potential for suicide.  

Behavioral therapy for teens suffering depression, should at a minimum, help them deal with changes in life that may (or in some cases may not) be causing their depressed mood, such as:

  • Family social problems such as divorce, death, marital violence, alcohol and drug addiction
  • Personal problems, including relationship problems (dating and friends), drug and alcohol use
  •  Habits of dangerous behavior (premature and multiple sexual encounters), legal problems (stealing, gang activities, speeding and driving recklessly)
  • School problems (truancy, cheating, bullying, mislabeling caused by ADHD misdiagnosis.)

The most commonly used behavioral therapy for treating depression, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is best started and supervised by a trained psychologist or therapist. During therapy sessions, the therapist will help a depressed teen figure out the things that may or may not have caused his or her depression and put together a plan to help deal with them. Sometimes, these things can be discussed, but never resolved because of time passed (the event happened many years in the past), because those involved are no longer around (moved, death or incarceration) or because there is no way to control other’s behavior (a boyfriend or girlfriend who abuses drugs or alcohol).

Rarely, a depressed teen may improve with CBT only. Most will need antidepressant medications to help depressed mood, problems with concentration and ability to think clearly, and develop coping skills needed to fight their depression and prevent it in the future.

About medications…

The antidepressant medications used in teens most often include paroxetine (Paxil) and fluoxetine (Prozac). Both of these serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) appear to be very effective in treating depression and anxiety. Of the two, fluoxetine is currently the only FDA approved medication for treating depression in childhood. All antidepressants may increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in both children and teens and must be monitored closely.

How can we create the greatest success in treating a teen’s depression?

  • Educate and involve the entire family and friends about what is going on and what needs to be done
  • Help the teen deal with the things that are responsible for causing major stress in his or her life
  • Provide a supported, understanding and loving environment that promote both physical and emotional growth and maturity

As you can see, dealing with teenage depression requires a lot of work, commitment and dedication if it is to be successful….but, I’m sure you’ll find great satisfaction in improving and saving a life that was in shambles.

In my next post, we’ll talk about how you can tell CBT and medications are working when treating teenage depression.

Dr. Frank

P.S. don’t forget to take a look at and the article; “Is My Fifteen Year Old Depressed” via this link: 

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