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Talk Therapy Combined with Meds Effective for Severe Depression

Update Date: Aug 22, 2014 10:45 AM EDT

Depression is a mental health disorder that disrupts people's ability to carry out everyday errands. When left untreated, depression can worsen and lead to fatal circumstances, such as suicide. In a new study, researchers examined a new treatment route for people with short-term severe depression and found that combining talk therapy with antidepressants was effective.

In this study, the researchers recruited 452 adults suffering from depression. The participants were being treated at one of three university medical centers within the United States. They were randomly assigned to one of two treatment plans, which were antidepressants only and antidepressants combined with cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy works to break down people's pattern of negative thoughts. Throughout the study, the doctors were allowed to change the antidepressant drugs around in order to determine which one would be the most effective option for the particular patient.

"We allowed the clinicians to do whatever it took to get the patient better," lead author Steven Hollon, a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN said. "We really pulled out all the stops. We did something that was closer to what people would do in good clinical practice in the real world."

Overall, four out of five patients with severe depression were considered fully recovered after receiving a combination of therapy and antidepressants. The researchers calculated that for people with severe but not chronic depression, combination treatment improved their chances of recovery by 30 percent more than antidepressants alone could. This combination, however, was not any more effective than drugs alone for patients with mild depression.

When the researchers compared success rates, they found that 73 percent of people receiving combined therapy made a full recovery whereas only 63 percent of the patients from the drugs only group did as well. In patients with short-term severe depression, the recovery rate was 81 percent in the combination group and 52 percent in the drugs only group.

"Having the additional therapy component with medication helps patients with depression, clinically," Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York City stated according to WebMD. "Medication and therapy should still be used in combination as much as possible, until we know more."

The study, "Effect of Cognitive Therapy With Antidepressant Medications vs Antidepressants Alone on the Rate of Recovery in Major Depressive Disorder," was published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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