Only 20 percent of young people diagnosed with anxiety will stay well over the long term, despite evidence-based treatment, according to a new study.
“When you see so few kids stay non-symptomatic after receiving the best treatments we have, that’s discouraging,” said University of Connecticut psychologist Dr. Golda Ginsburg.
The study followed 319 young people aged 10 to 25 who had been diagnosed with separation, social or general anxiety disorders at sites in California, North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
They received evidence-based treatment with either sertraline (the generic form of Zoloft) or cognitive-behavioral therapy or a combination of these two.
They also had follow-ups with the researchers every year for four years. The follow-ups assessed anxiety levels, but did not provide treatment.
Other studies have done a single follow-up at one, two, five, or 10 years out, but those were essentially snapshots in time, the researcher notes. This is the first study to reassess youth treated for anxiety every year for four years, she added.
The sequential follow-ups meant that the researchers could identify people who relapsed, recovered, and relapsed again, as well as people who stayed anxious and people who stayed well.
The study found that 20 percent of patients got well after treatment and stayed well, rating low on anxiety at each follow-up.
But about half the patients relapsed at least once, and 30 percent were chronically anxious, meeting the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder at every follow-up, according to the study’s findings.
Females were more likely to be chronically ill than males. Other predictors of chronic illness were experiencing more negative life events, having poor family communication, and having a diagnosis of social phobia.
On the bright side, the study found that young people who responded to treatment were more likely to stay well. The study also found no difference in long-term outcomes between treatment types. This means that if there is no cognitive-behavioral therapist nearby, treatment with medication is just as likely to be effective, according to the researchers.
The study also found that kids did better if their families were supportive and had positive communication styles.
Ginsburg offers advice for getting the best help for your child: Talk to your child and to the therapist, and ask questions. Why do you suggest this treatment? Has the therapist been trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy? How can we reinforce what you learned in therapy this week?
She adds that parents and their kids should be aware that a single intervention may not be enough.
“If we can get them well, how do we keep them well?” Ginsburg said. “We need a different model for mental health, one that includes regular checkups.”
The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Source: University of Connecticut
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