Guidelines recommend CBT alone for mild acute depression, more options for more severe cases



The American College of Physicians has issued new guidelines for managing acute major depressive disorder, suggesting those with moderate to severe depression may start with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) alone or a second-generation antidepressant (SGA) alone.

The guidelines also state that patients with mild depression should start with CBT alone, and if a patient with moderate to severe depression prefers, they can use a combination of both CBT and an SGA.

These nuanced recommendations contrast sharply with the 2016 ACP guidelines for depression, which lumped all stages and severity levels together, and came with just one recommendation: Clinicians should choose between CBT and an SGA.

More data have come to light over the years, requiring the present update, reported lead author Amir Qaseem, MD, PhD, vice president of Clinical Policy and the Center for Evidence Reviews at the ACP, and adjunct faculty at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, and colleagues.

In addition to the focus on acute depression, Dr. Qaseem and colleagues highlighted the new guidelines' “consideration of patient values and preferences, and costs,” as well as responses to therapy.

Recommendations were derived from a network meta-analysis that included studies evaluating nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic therapies, the authors wrote in Annals of Internal Medicine. They compared effectiveness across a range of SGAs, “including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors; serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors; and others such as bupropion, mirtazapine, nefazodone, trazodone, vilazodone, and vortioxetine.”

This analysis yielded three pieces of clinical advice.

First, patients in the acute phase of mild depression should receive CBT alone as their initial treatment.

Dr. Qaseem and colleagues noted that many depression studies for pharmacologic therapies excluded these patients in favor of those with moderate to severe depression, leaving an evidence gap.

“Furthermore, the Clinical Guidelines Committee had concerns about adverse effects of SGAs in these patients and suggests that the use of SGAs as initial treatment of these patients should be based on additional considerations, such as limited access to or cost of CBT, history of moderate or severe major depressive disorder, or patient preferences,” they added.

The committee’s next recommendation, based on moderate-certainty evidence, suggested that CBT alone or an SGA alone should be considered for patients in the acute phase of moderate to severe depression. This call for monotherapy is balanced by a conditional recommendation based on low-certainty evidence that the same group may benefit from initial combination therapy with both CBT and an SGA.

“The informed decision on the options of monotherapy with CBT versus SGAs, or combination therapy, should be personalized and based on discussion of potential treatment benefits, harms, adverse effect profiles, cost, feasibility, patients’ specific symptoms (such as insomnia, hypersomnia, or fluctuation in appetite), comorbidities, concomitant medication use, and patient preferences,” the guidelines state.

The third and final recommendation offers an algorithm for patients who do not respond to initial therapy with an SGA. Multiple pathways are provided: Switch to CBT or augment with CBT; or switch to a different SGA or augment with a second pharmacologic therapy, such as mirtazapine, bupropion, or buspirone.

“These second-line treatment strategies show similar efficacy when compared with each other,” the guidelines committee noted.

Again, the guidelines suggest that second-line choices should be personalized based on the various factors previously discussed.


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