Teenagers suffering from depression can now get treated faster thanks to an effective new form of therapy that takes just six to eight weeks.

Depression in teenagers is unfortunately common, and serious. Left untreated, it can affect a young person’s future life and raises their risk of self-harm and suicide. Most young people cannot get access to psychological therapy or must wait months or years for treatment.

Reading’s Professor Shirley Reynolds was commissioned by the NHS to run part of a large trial involving 465 young people to pinpoint which therapies are most effective for treating adolescent depression. Her findings showed that short-term treatments were just as effective as longer courses of therapy.  Working with therapists, teenagers, parents and teachers, the study team developed a new treatment over six to eight weekly sessions called ‘Brief behavioural activation’, or Brief BA.

Brief BA focuses on a symptom called anhedonia: the inability to feel pleasure in enjoyable activities. Therapists work with young people to find out values that are important to them and then plan and take part in activities that align with their values, to give them positive reinforcement. Teenagers engage well and very few drop out of treatment. Most importantly, it works.

Such is the success of this therapy that it is now taught to thousands of NHS mental health therapists working in schools and clinics across England and Scotland. Professor Reynolds’ research-based training, self-help booklets and other materials have reached over 70,000 people. Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Iceland and Sweden have integrated Brief BA into healthcare systems and young people all over the world are now receiving the therapy.

Thanks to this research, young people who are suffering have a shorter wait to get help, and the burden on families, schools and health services has been eased.

Find out more

Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People (online short course for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals)

View the full impact case study on the REF 2021 website: Helping depressed young people access and engage in evidence-based treatments.