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Long-term effects of mental health treatments in children unclear

30 August 2022

Children with mental disorders such as ADHD, anxiety and depression are often treated with psychotherapy and/or medication, but there is too little scientific evidence supporting the long-term effects of these treatments. This is the conclusion of researcher Annelieke Roest and her colleagues in a recently published article.

Long-term effects of mental health treatments in children unclear

Side effects

Roest and her colleagues investigated whether various types of treatment, such as antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, had a positive effect on children aged 6 to 12 years even after two years. They did this by systematically analyzing previously conducted studies.

The researchers conclude that little research has been done on the long-term effects of the treatments. As a result, we do not know whether these treatments are still effective and safe in the long run. Roest: "Our research showed that the positive long-term effects of psychological and pharmacological treatments are small at best. At the same time we do not know what the negative effects of these treatments are." Roest mentions side effects of medication or "learned helplessness" in psychotherapy as examples of possible negative effects.

Watchful waiting

The researcher therefore argues that the best treatment options should be considered for each child individually. "For each child, an assessment of the expected beneficial and harmful effects of treatment must be made, both in the short and long term. Especially if the symptoms are mild, "watchful waiting" might be a better option than treatment with medication or psychological treatments, Roest argues.

Roest, A.M., De Vries, Y.A., Wienen, A.W., & De Jonge, P. (2022). Editorial perspective: Are treatments for childhood mental disorders helpful in the long run? An overview of systematic reviews. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Last modified:30 August 2022 09.30 a.m.
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