Anxiety Symptom Trajectories Predict Depression Symptom Trajectories up to Four Years After CBT for Youth Anxiety Disorders

Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol. 2024 Jun 15. doi: 10.1007/s10802-024-01214-9. Online ahead of print.


Long-term data on depression symptoms after cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for youth anxiety disorders are scant. We examined depression symptoms up to four years post CBT for anxiety addressing youth age and gender, family social class, and parent mental health as predictors. The sample comprised 179 youth (M age at pre-treatment = 11.5 years; SD = 2.1) in a randomized controlled trial. Clinically assessed anxiety diagnoses and youth and parent-reported anxiety and depression symptoms were measured before, after, and one and four years after CBT. Parent self-reported mental health was measured before CBT. We used regression analyses to determine whether full diagnostic recovery at post-CBT predicted depression trajectories across the four-year assessment period. We used growth curve models to determine whether anxiety trajectories predicted depression trajectories across the four-year assessment period. Youth who lost their anxiety diagnoses after CBT had significantly lower parent-reported depression levels over time, but not lower youth self-reported depression levels. The anxiety symptom trajectory predicted the depression symptom trajectory up to four years post-treatment. There was more explained variance for within-informant (youth-youth; parent-parent) than cross-informants. Being older, female, having lower socio-economic status and parents with poorer mental health were associated with more youth-rated depression over time. However, these demographic predictors were not significant when anxiety symptoms trajectories were added to the models. Successful CBT for anxiety in children is associated with less depression symptoms for as long as four years. Anxiety symptom improvement appears to be a stronger predictor that demographic variables and parent mental health.

Keywords: Anxiety; Children; Cognitive behavioral therapy; Depression; Longitudinal effects; Parents.