Family therapy shows promise in treating suicidal youth

    Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. A new study finds involved families are important in prevention.

    Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. A new study finds involved families are important in prevention.

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    It’s a small study, but it provides a ray of hope in a field that is light on both research and effective treatment.

    Scientists at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital studied at-risk adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. They were very depressed and had suicidal thoughts, 50 percent had already attempted suicide.

    Half of the kids were enrolled in family therapy, the other half received individual therapy. Lead researcher Dr. Guy Diamond says youth who completed the family therapy were less depressed and had fewer suicidal thoughts.

    Diamond: Kids were probably 4 times more likely to get better on suicide and 2 times more likely to get better on depression if they were in the family intervention study.

    Diamond says kids in the family intervention part of the study had at least one parent or caregiver involved, and completed up to 16 weeks of therapy. He says families are an important, but often overlooked resource in treating adolescents:

    Diamond: We know from years of research in developmental psychology that kids who stay connected with their parents actually do much better than kids who feel disconnected or disengaged.

    Diamond hopes to distribute his findings not only to mental health practitioners but also to primary care doctors – he says they play an important role in identifying suicidal youth.

    More information on the study and an upcoming conference on Dr. Diamond’s findings (pdf link).

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