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Update on Adolescent Mood Disorders

Update on Adolescent Mood Disorders

Some recent studies provide clinically useful information about treatment and screening for adolescent depression and the course of adolescent bipolar disorder. In line with adolescents’ interest in interactive video games, Merry and colleagues1 developed a computerized cognitive-behavioral therapy intervention that is an interactive fantasy game for depressed adolescents. In this 3-dimensional CD-ROM game, SPARX (smart, positive, active, realistic, X-factor thoughts), the adolescent chooses an avatar and tries to restore balance in a fantasy world dominated by GNATS (gloomy, negative automatic thoughts).2

The game consists of 7 levels, each with a different province (eg, cave, volcano) containing different content. The contents include finding hope, being active, dealing with emotions, overcoming problems, recognizing unhelpful thoughts, challenging unhelpful thoughts, and bringing it all together. At the beginning and end of each of these levels, the adolescent interacts with a guide who explains the game, provides education, assesses mood, and sets and monitors real-life challenges.

The effectiveness of SPARX in the treatment of 187 adolescents with depressive symptoms was assessed in a randomized controlled trial that compared SPARX with treatment as usual (counseling) over 4 to 7 weeks. There were similar reductions in Children’s Depression Rating Scale–Revised (CDRS-R) scores between SPARX and treatment as usual at the end of the intervention. Response rates (defined as 30% decrease in CDRS-R scores) were similar for SPARX (66.2%) and treatment as usual (58.3%). The authors concluded that SPARX may be a useful intervention for adolescents with depression, especially since it is readily accessible.

In pediatric care settings, clinicians are often in need of screening instruments for the assessment of depression in adolescents. Allgaier and colleagues3 examined the validity of the Patient Health Questionnaire 9-Item (PHQ-9) and 2-Item (PHQ-2) in 322 adolescents from pediatric hospitals and clinics.4,5 The PHQ-9 items include interest or pleasure, mood, sleep, fatigue, appetite, self-esteem, concentration, psychomotor retardation or agitation, and suicidality, whereas the PHQ-2 items are interest or pleasure and mood.

The PHQ-9 and the PHQ-2 were compared with depressive diagnoses obtained by a structured diagnostic interview. The diagnostic accuracy was significantly higher for the PHQ-9 (area under the curve [AUC] = 93.2%) than for the PHQ-2 (AUC = 87.2%). Sensitivity was similar between these two versions, PHQ-9 (90%) and PHQ-2 (85%), but the specificity was higher for the PHQ-9 (86.5%) than for the PHQ-2 (79.4%). The authors concluded that both versions of the PHQ are valid screening tools; however, the PHQ-9 is a more valid instrument for adolescents with depression.

Adolescents may have symptoms of hypomania ranging from full syndrome to brief episodes (less than 4 days) and subsyndromal hypomania. It is important to know whether these hypomania spectrum disorders will continue in adulthood. Pren and colleagues6 conducted a 15-year longitudinal follow-up of 64 adolescents who had a lifetime hypomania spectrum episode. In adulthood, 2 (3%) had mania, 4 (6%) had hypomania, and 38 (59%) had depression.


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