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Teens Can Recover From Depression With Family-Focused Treatment, Study Finds
Bipolar disorder is the common name for a group of mental health conditions that feature abnormally manic and abnormally depressed emotional states. The most serious of these conditions, called bipolar I disorder, combines episodes of full-blown mania with separate episodes of severe depression. According to the results of a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, use of a form of therapy called family-focused treatment (FFT) can help prevent the onset of bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder in teenagers and children, even when those teens and children have unusually high risks for developing these conditions.
Bipolar Disorder Basics
In addition to bipolar I disorder, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognizes specific forms of bipolar illness called bipolar II disorder and cyclothymic disorder, as well as two more generalized conditions called “other” specified bipolar disorder and “unspecified” bipolar disorder. While bipolar I disorder features major episodes of both mania and depression, bipolar II disorder combines major depressive episodes with relatively subdued manic episodes. Cyclothymic disorder, on the other hand, combines relatively subdued manic episodes with relatively mild depressive episodes. The “other” and “unspecified” listings are designed to give mental health professionals a way to diagnose people with clear bipolar issues who don’t meet all of the requirements necessary for diagnosing bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder or cyclothymic disorder.
Family-Focused Treatment Basics
Family-focused treatment is also known as family-focused therapy. The technique gets its name because it relies on the involvement of a patient’s family members for its effectiveness. FFT has four main stages or phases, known as the engagement phase, the psychoeducational phase, communication enhancement training, and problem-solving skills training. During the engagement phase, a therapist, psychologist, or social worker explains the details of the therapy to the patient and his or her participating family members. During the psychoeducational phase, the professional conducting the treatment talks about various aspects of bipolar disorder with the patient and his or her family. During communication enhancement training, the professional conducting the treatment leads the patient and his or her family in exercises designed to improve the ability speak clearly and listen to others. During problem-solving skills training, the participants learn to identify and solve any specific bipolar disorder-related problems that apply to their situation.
At-Risk Teens and Children
Some teens and younger children have abnormally high chances of developing bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder, both of which produce some form of severe mood disruption. Factors known to increase bipolar I- and bipolar II-related risks in these populations include a previous diagnosis for cyclothymic disorder, a previous diagnosis for major depression, and a previous diagnosis for an “other” or “unspecified” bipolar illness. In addition, unusually high risks appear in teens and younger children with first-degree relatives (parents, brothers, or sisters) already affected by diagnosable bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder.
FFT as Bipolar Disorder Prevention
In the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a multi-university research team assessed the usefulness of a modified form of family-focused treatment—called family-focused treatment, high-risk version (FFT-HR)—as a means of preventing bipolar I and bipolar II disorder in a group of at-risk teenagers and younger children. During FFT-HR, participants go through 12 sessions of psychoeducation, communication enhancement training and problem-solving skills training. In addition to the people who received the high-risk version of family-focused treatment, the study included teens and children who participated in only one or two educational sessions regarding bipolar disorder.
In an average of 60 days, the study participants who went through a full course of FFT-HR effectively recovered from their depression-related risk factors for bipolar I and bipolar II disorder. By comparison, the teens and younger children who took part in only a couple of educational sessions needed more than twice that amount of time to recover from their depression symptoms. In addition to recovering more quickly than their counterparts who did not go through high-risk, family-focused treatment, the participants who did go through this treatment remained free from their mood-related symptoms for much longer periods of time.