Context: Depression is a common condition associated with significant morbidity in adolescents. Few depressed adolescents receive effective treatment for depression in primary care settings.
Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of a quality improvement intervention aimed at increasing access to evidence-based treatments for depression (particularly cognitive-behavior therapy and antidepressant medication), relative to usual care, among adolescents in primary care practices.
Design, setting, and participants: Randomized controlled trial conducted between 1999 and 2003 enrolling 418 primary care patients with current depressive symptoms, aged 13 through 21 years, from 5 health care organizations purposively selected to include managed care, public sector, and academic medical center clinics in the United States.
Intervention: Usual care (n = 207) or 6-month quality improvement intervention (n = 211) including expert leader teams at each site, care managers who supported primary care clinicians in evaluating and managing patients' depression, training for care managers in manualized cognitive-behavior therapy for depression, and patient and clinician choice regarding treatment modality. Participating clinicians also received education regarding depression evaluation, management, and pharmacological and psychosocial treatment.
Main outcome measures: Depressive symptoms assessed by Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) score. Secondary outcomes were mental health-related quality of life assessed by Mental Health Summary Score (MCS-12) and satisfaction with mental health care assessed using a 5-point scale.
Results: Six months after baseline assessments, intervention patients, compared with usual care patients, reported significantly fewer depressive symptoms (mean [SD] CES-D scores, 19.0 [11.9] vs 21.4 [13.1]; P = .02), higher mental health-related quality of life (mean [SD] MCS-12 scores, 44.6 [11.3] vs 42.8 [12.9]; P = .03), and greater satisfaction with mental health care (mean [SD] scores, 3.8 [0.9] vs 3.5 [1.0]; P = .004). Intervention patients also reported significantly higher rates of mental health care (32.1% vs 17.2%, P<.001) and psychotherapy or counseling (32.0% vs 21.2%, P = .007).
Conclusions: A 6-month quality improvement intervention aimed at improving access to evidence-based depression treatments through primary care was significantly more effective than usual care for depressed adolescents from diverse primary care practices. The greater uptake of counseling vs medication under the intervention reinforces the importance of practice interventions that include resources to enable evidence-based psychotherapy for depressed adolescents.