Psychological treatments for depression in pre-adolescent children (12 years and younger): systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016 Oct;25(10):1045-54. doi: 10.1007/s00787-016-0834-5. Epub 2016 Mar 11.


The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of psychological treatments for depression in pre-adolescent children, a disorder affecting 1-2 % of children in this age range. A systematic review of studies of psychological interventions to treat depressive disorder in pre-adolescent children (aged up to 12-years-old) was carried out. The primary outcome was level of depressive symptoms. Studies were found using Medline, PsycINFO, EMBASE and Web of Knowledge databases and selected on several criteria. Only randomised controlled trials were included. Where individual studies covered a broader age range (usually including adolescents up to age 18 years), authors of those studies were contacted and requested to provide individual patient level data for those aged 12 years and younger. 2822 abstracts were reviewed, and from these 124 full text articles were reviewed, yielding 7 studies for which we were able to access appropriate data for this review. 5 of these studies evaluated cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Combined results from these studies suggest that there is a lack of evidence that CBT is better than no treatment [standard mean difference -0.342 (95 % confidence interval -0.961, 0.278)], although the number of participants included in the trials was relatively small. The evidence for efficacy of family therapy and psychodynamic therapy is even more limited. The very limited number of participants in randomised controlled trials means that there is inconclusive evidence for the psychological treatment of depression in children aged 12 years and below. Given the prevalence and significant impact of this disorder, there is an urgent need to establish the effectiveness or otherwise of psychological intervention.

Keywords: Children; Depression; Meta-analysis; Psychological treatment; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy*
  • Family Therapy
  • Humans
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome