Background: Although its effect has not been verified, family therapy - such as family psychoeducation (FPE) - is a widely used intervention for treating major depressive disorder (MDD). To our knowledge, no systematic review and meta-analysis exists that examines the effect of FPE on MDD.
Aims: To assess evidence on the effectiveness of FPE on depressive symptoms in people with MDD.
Method: We searched several databases - including PubMed, MEDLINE and Web of Science, among others - to identify eligible studies on the topic published up to March 2022. Our criteria included studies on participants with a primary MDD diagnosis and their family members and excluded studies on people with bipolar disorders and other mental illnesses. In the included studies, family members in the control groups did not receive FPE. Participants in both the intervention and control groups received standard treatment. Two researchers independently selected relevant publications, extracted data and evaluated methodological quality using the Cochrane risk of bias assessment tool and GRADE evaluation. The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (no. CRD42020185884).
Results: The meta-analysis included five studies with 301 patients with MDD and their family members. The effect of FPE on patients' symptom severity, compared with the control condition, at 16 weeks was available for five comparisons of four randomised control trials (RCTs); a final follow-up was available for six comparisons of five RCTs. The meta-analysis showed a statistically significant improvement in patients' symptoms, compared with control, at 16 weeks (s.m.d. = -0.52, 95% CI -1.03 to -0.01) and at a final follow-up (s.m.d. = -0.53, 95% CI -0.98 to -0.08). The meta-analysis on the effect of FPE on family functioning showed a non-significant improvement both at 16 weeks and at final follow-up.
Conclusions: FPE had a small but statistically significant effect on depressive symptoms in people with MDD, in both the short and long term. However, according to the GRADE framework, all outcomes are graded very low on certainty; therefore, more high-quality research is needed.
Keywords: Major depressive disorder; family psychoeducation; meta-analysis; randomised control trial; systematic review.