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Unconventional wisdom: Major depression tied to childhood trauma is treatable



Despite a higher symptom burden, patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) and a history of childhood trauma (CT) can achieve significant recovery following treatment with a combination of pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy, new research suggests.

Results from a meta-analysis of 29 studies from 1966 to 2019, which included almost 7,000 adults with MDD, showed that more than 60% reported a history of CT. But despite having more severe depression at baseline, those with CT benefited from active treatment. Effect sizes were comparable, and dropout rates were similar to those of their counterparts without CT.

“Evidence-based psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy should be offered to depressed patients, regardless of their childhood trauma status,” lead author Erika Kuzminskaite, MSc, a PhD candidate at Amsterdam UMC department of psychiatry, the Netherlands, told this news organization.

“Screening for childhood trauma is important to identify individuals at risk for more severe course of the disorder and post-treatment residual symptoms,” she added.

The study was published online in the Lancet Psychiatry.

Common and potent risk factor

The researchers note that CT is common and is a potent risk factor for depression. Previous studies have “consistently indicated significantly higher severity and persistence of depressive symptoms in adult patients with depression and a history of childhood trauma.”

Previous individual and meta-analytic studies “indicated poorer response to first-line depression treatments in patients with childhood trauma, compared to those without trauma, suggesting the need for new personalized treatments for depressed patients with childhood trauma history,” Ms. Kuzminskaite said.

“However, the evidence on poorer treatment outcomes has not been definitive, and a comprehensive meta-analysis of available findings has been lacking,” she added.

The previous meta-analyses showed high between-study heterogeneity, and some primary studies reported similar or even superior improvement for patients with CT, compared with those without such history, following treatment with evidence-based psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy.

Previous studies also did not investigate the “relative contribution of different childhood trauma types.”

To address this gap, investigators in the Childhood Trauma Meta-Analysis Study Group conducted the “largest and most comprehensive study of available evidence examining the effects of childhood trauma on the efficacy and effectiveness of first-line treatments for adults with MDD.”

To be included, a study had to focus on adults over 18 years old who had received a primary diagnosis of depression. The study had to have included an available assessment of childhood trauma, and patients were required to have undergone psychotherapy and/or pharmacotherapy for depression alone or in combination with other guideline-recommended treatments. Studies were also required to have a comparator group, when applicable, and to have reported depression severity before and after the acute treatment phase.

Of 10,505 publications, 54 trials met inclusion criteria; of these, 29 (20 randomized controlled trials and 9 open trials), encompassing 6,830 participants aged 18-85 years, included data that had been made available by authors of the various studies and were included in the current analysis.

Most studies focused on MDD; 11 trials focused on patients with chronic or treatment-resistant depression.

The primary outcome was “depression severity change from baseline to the end of the acute treatment phase” (expressed as standardized effect size – Hedges’ g).


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