Is behavioural activation effective in the treatment of depression in young people? A systematic review and meta-analysis

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PURPOSE: Depression is currently the leading cause of illness and disability in young people. Evidence suggests that behavioural activation (BA) is an effective treatment for depression in adults but less research focuses on its application with young people. This review therefore examined whether BA is effective in the treatment of depression in young people.

METHODS: A systematic review (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews reference: CRD42015020453), following Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines, was conducted to examine studies that had explored behavioural interventions for young people with depression. The electronic databases searched included the Cochrane Library, EMBASE, MEDLINE, CINAHL Plus, PsychINFO, and Scopus. A meta-analysis employing a generic inverse variance, random-effects model was conducted on the included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to examine whether there were overall effects of BA on the Children's Depression Rating Scale - Revised.

RESULTS: Ten studies met inclusion criteria: three RCTs and seven within-participant designs (total n = 170). The review showed that BA may be effective in the treatment of depression in young people. The Cochrane risk of bias tool and the Moncrieff scale used to assess the quality of the included studies revealed a variety of limitations within each.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite demonstrating that BA may be effective in the treatment of depression in young people, the review indicated a number of methodological problems in the included studies meaning that the results and conclusions should be treated with caution. Furthermore, the paucity of studies in this area highlights the need for further research.

PRACTITIONER POINTS: Currently BA is included within National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE, 2009) guidelines as an evidence-based treatment for depression in adults with extensive research supporting its effectiveness. It is important to investigate whether it may also be effective in treating young people. Included studies reported reductions in depression scores across a range of measures following BA. BA may be an effective treatment of depression in young people.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology and psychotherapy
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017

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