CHICAGO - A popular antidepressant plus three months of psychotherapy significantly helped children with anxiety disorders, the most common psychiatric illnesses in kids, the biggest study of its kind found.
The research also offers comfort to parents worried about putting their children on a powerful drug: Therapy alone did a lot of good, too.
Combining the drug sertraline - available as a generic and under the brand name Zoloft - with therapy worked best. But each method alone also had big benefits, said Dr. John Walkup, lead author of the government-funded research.
It's estimated that anxiety disorders affect as many as 20 percent of U.S. children and teens. In many cases, symptoms almost disappeared in children who had previously been so anxious that they wouldn't leave home, sleep alone or hang out with friends, said Walkup, a Johns Hopkins Hospital psychiatrist.
Sertraline is among the antidepressants linked with suicidal thoughts and behavior in children with depression. In this study, only a handful of the more than 200 kids using it had suicide-related thoughts, and there were no suicide attempts, Walkup said. Suicidal tendencies are more common with depression than with anxiety, he said.
The study, paid for by the National Institute of Mental Health, involved 488 children ages 7 to 17 treated at six centers around the country. Several study authors reported receiving consulting fees or other compensation from drug companies, including antidepressant makers.