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Family Therapy Helps Suicidal Teens

Adolescents with suicidal thoughts and elevated depression had stronger and faster reduction of symptoms when treated with family therapy compared to the standard treatment in the community, according to researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in American adolescents, accounting for more than 1,300 deaths in youths between the ages of 12 and 18 in 2005. An additional one million teens attempt suicide each year, leading to high emotional and financial costs to families and the health care system.

Unfortunately, very few treatment studies have focused on this vulnerable age group or identified treatments with proven results.

This study, titled Attachment-Based Family Therapy, found that patients with severe suicidal thinking were at least four times more likely to have no suicide thinking at the end of the treatment or three months after treatment than patients treated in the community. Patients in ABFT also showed a more rapid decrease in depression symptoms and were retained in treatment longer than in community care, even with additional supports provided by the study. This is the first treatment study for teen suicidal ideation to show robust and statistically significant improvement over usual treatment.

"Most treatment models mainly work with the adolescents alone, helping them to learn new coping and problem-solving strategies," says study leader Guy S. Diamond, Ph.D., director of the Center for Family Intervention Science at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "But adolescents are highly influenced by their parents. Family conflict, chaos, and strife can contribute to youth suicide, while at the same time family love, trust, and communication can buffer against it. This therapy aims to resolve family conflicts and promote family strengths so that the appropriate bond of attachment can protect youth from self harm."

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