New UT Southwestern study shows urgency in treating kids with depression
This story discusses mental health and data related to suicide. For resources and support, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or text HOME to 741741 to connect to the Crisis Text Line.
UT Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) is leading a statewide collaboration with other academic medical centers to research depression in Texas youth.
More than 1,000 kids from Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley are part of the study, to identify depression symptoms and find the best treatment options over time.
Across the United States, suicide rates have increased for people ages 10-24 since about 2000, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also reported in 2021, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among people 10-24.
UTSW psychiatry professor Dr. Madhukar Trivedi leads the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care. He said the collaborative recently published a study showing almost half of Texas kids being treated for depression have attempted suicide at least once in their life.
“This study clearly shows one important thing: by the time someone needs to see a child psychiatrist, the illness is quite severe and significant,” Trivedi said.
Trivedi said he and other researchers found youth who had attempted suicide had more trauma events and substance use than kids who didn’t. These youth also had “poorer school adjustment, fewer social activities, and poor peer relationships,” which Trivedi said pointed to the importance of mental health support in academic settings.
“We need to become much more vigilant in schools, in primary care pediatric practices, [to] identify these kids much earlier so we can intervene before they get to this severe state,” he said.
Dr. Betsy Kennard, a professor of psychiatry at UTSW and Children’s Health, said there are interventions that help lessen depression symptoms and thoughts of suicide. Two types of therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are frequently paired with medication to treat depression.
Kennard said the hospital system has a program called Suicide Prevention and Resilience at Children’s, which combines group therapy, family therapy and individual therapy for kids who had been hospitalized for a suicide attempt.
“[It’s] teaching them to monitor both their thoughts and their behaviors, how to manage their mood, how families can talk about suicide in the home, and how families can improve communication in general,” she said.
But often, said Kennard, people just don’t know what options are out there to help their kids.
“We can treat these kids,” she said. “They can get better. There’s a lot of hope. But I think families and children sometimes feel like they’re suffering alone.”
She recommends parents make conversations about emotions a regular part of their interactions.
“It’s important to talk about, particularly if you see your child is struggling—maybe they’ve made changes in behavior, they’ve left their friend groups, they’ve lost interest in activities,” Kennard said.
Kennard said the collaboration’s goal is to follow patients over the course of their treatment, identify what interventions work best, and share that knowledge across the state’s academic centers. She said it’s ultimately about improving access to mental health services and lowering the rate of depression and suicide among Texas youth.
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