Early-onset depression contributes significantly to the global health burden and has long-term negative effects. This meta-analysis collates and examines the effectiveness of family-based interventions, where family members are involved in the treatment of depression in children and adolescents.
A literature search was performed up to 8th March 2023. Randomised controlled trials of family-based interventions were included for participants aged 3-18 years with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder or dysthymia, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) or with a score above a cut-off on a standardised self-report depression measure.
The overall effect size for treatment versus active control was g = 0.22 (95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.05-0.50) (nine studies; 659 participants), and for treatment versus non-active control it was g = 0.46 (95% CI: -0.09-1.01) (four studies; 385 participants). Effect sizes were not statistically significant, and heterogeneity was high, ranging between I<sup>2</sup> = 64.3-81.1%. Subgroup analysis comparing attachment-based family therapy with family therapy using other theoretical frameworks did not yield a significant difference between the two. The effects of family-based therapies were larger than those in the comparison groups, but family-based therapy did not demonstrate a significant treatment benefit compared to the controls.
More randomised controlled trials are warranted, considering that evidence for other psychotherapies for depression in children and adolescents, indicates modest effects. Family-based therapy may be an alternative for children and adolescents whose needs are not addressed by these treatments.
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