A popular antidepressant plus three months of psychotherapy dramatically helped children with anxiety disorders, the most common psychiatric illnesses in kids, the biggest study of its kind found.
The research also offers comfort to parents worried about powerful drugs – therapy alone did a lot of good, too.
Combining the drug sertraline, available as a generic and under the brand name Zoloft, with therapy worked best. But each method alone also had big benefits, said Dr. John Walkup, lead author of the government-funded research. It's estimated that anxiety disorders affect as many as 20 percent of U.S. children and teens.
In many cases, symptoms almost disappeared in children previously so anxious that they wouldn't leave home, sleep alone, or hang out with friends, said Walkup, a Johns Hopkins Hospital psychiatrist.
Sertraline is among antidepressants linked with suicidal thoughts and behavior in children with depression. In this study, only a handful of the more than 200 kids using it had suicide-related thoughts and there were no suicide attempts, Walkup said. Suicidal tendencies are more common in depression than in anxiety, he said.
Zoloft, mostly used to treat adult depression and anxiety, is approved for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder in kids, but not anxiety. Some doctors use it for that, however. And some smaller, less rigorous studies have suggested it and other antidepressants can help.
The new study, paid for by the National Institute of Mental Health, is the largest examining treatment of childhood anxiety disorders, said co-author Dr. John March of Duke University,