Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach frequently used to treat anxiety and depressive disorders. While CBT has been traditionally used on adults, new research suggests that the therapy may be applicable for much more than reducing anxiety, not only being effective for children and adolescents, but offering considerable benefits in the years following initial treatment.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, found that patients who did not respond to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety in childhood suffered from more chronic and enduring patterns of suicidal ideation at age seven to 19 years after treatment. Also, the results revealed that CBT treatment for adolescents may influence later thoughts of suicidal ideation.
The Temple University research team looked at 66 children who were treated for anxiety disorders such as separation, social and generalized anxiety. These individuals had previously participated in two of the randomized controlled trials of a newly created program known as the Coping Cat, a manualized CBT intervention for child anxiety developed by the Temple University team. The results showed that 40 patients responded successfully to the CBT treatment (successful was defined as those whose primary anxiety disorder was no longer considered clinically significant after 16 weeks of treatment) in childhood and adolescence, while 26 were non-responsive to the treatment.
Their results also showed that seven to 19 years after treatment, the participant’s response to the therapy was found to significantly predict lifetime suicidal ideation, with the treatment nonresponders being more likely to have experienced suicidal ideation. The research team believes that their study is the first to demonstrate the protective function of evidence-based treatment for childhood anxiety disorders on suicidal ideation in late adolescence.
“This study underscores the importance of the identification and evidence-based treatment of youth anxiety. It underscores the importance of the identification and evidence-based treatment of youth anxiety and the ongoing monitoring of anxious youth who are not successfully treated for later suicidal ideation,” said lead author of the study Courtney Benjamin Wolk, a postdoctoral researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine.
The findings showed that every patient who reported thinking about suicide in the past 12 months or two weeks was amongst those who had not responded to CBT. Of these participants, 18 experienced suicidal ideation, with nine reporting having made one or more suicide plans and six having made one or more suicide attempts in their lifetime. For the test group that reported suicidal ideation, onset occurred on average at 16 years of age and was last reported by most patients at about 20 years of age.
Amongst those in the test group who reported making suicide attempts, ideation began at a mean age of 17 years old and occurred most commonly at the age of 21, with all instances of suicidal plans and attempts occurring after the age of initial treatment.
CBT in adolescent treatment
Despite the common co-occurrence of anxiety and depressive disorders in teenagers, the dynamic between anxiety and the range of suicidal behavior (suicidal ideation, plans, attempts and completed suicides) that can arise from it requires further research.
Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to preventing mental disorders and/or addiction issues from exacerbating in adulthood. At our Utah-based male boarding school, the White River Academy and at all of our locations throughout the continental U.S., cognitive behavioral therapy is employed universally as one of the staple treatment modalities for both adolescents and adults alike. For more information, contact (866) 615-7266.