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Investigating Alternatives for Childhood Depression

There’s a pressing need to assess the safety and effectiveness of commonly-used alternative therapies for depression among children and adolescents // , according to mental health experts from the University of Melbourne.

Professor Anthony Jorm and colleagues have found that although alternative treatments for depression are in common use by young people, there’s little evidence of whether most of the treatments are safe or effective.

“Depressive disorders are estimated to affect 3 per cent of Australians aged 6-17 years every year,” Prof Jorm says in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

He warns that the emergence of depression during childhood and adolescence can have detrimental effects across a person’s entire lifespan.

While antidepressants are effective in treating adults, Prof Jorm says it is not clear whether they are safe and effective for children and adolescents.

Many complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and self-help treatments for depression also have shown some success in adults but Prof Jorm and colleagues found that the available evidence for most therapies was limited and generally of poor quality.

Of treatments including St John’s wort, art therapy, vitamin C and others, light therapy as treatment for winter depression had the best supporting evidence, the review found.

Massage and relaxation techniques have a proven immediate effect on emotional state but there’s no evidence to support their long-term effectiveness.

Prof Jorm recommends that medical practitioners discuss the pros and cons of CAM treatments with the patient or guardian to help them make an informed decision.

“Given that antidepressant medication is not recommended as a first line treatment for children and adolescents with mild to moderate depression … there is a pressing need to extend the range of treatments available for this age group,” Prof Jorm says.

“Many [CAM treatments] warrant further investigation, based on either compelling correlational evidence or their demonstrated efficacy with adults.”

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