Untreated Childhood Anxiety Predicts Suicidal Behavior

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Patients with childhood anxiety who do not respond to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are more likely to experience suicidal ideation later in life, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The researchers found that patients who did not respond to CBT for anxiety were more likely to have thoughts, plans, or attempts of suicide 7 to 19 years after treatment.

Previous studies have suggested that successfully treating anxiety in childhood has long-term benefits. This new study sought to look more directly at the relationship between anxiety and suicidal behaviors.

The study included 66 patients who had been treated for anxiety as children, particular separation, social, or generalized anxiety. After 16 weeks of CBT, 40 of the patients had successfully responded, meaning their primary anxiety disorder was no longer clinically significant, and 26 were non-responders.

After 7 to 19 years of follow up, the researchers found that treatment response predicted suicidal ideation. Every patient who reported thinking about suicide in the past 12 months or past 2 weeks had not responded to CBT. Of those, 18 reported suicidal ideation, nine reported plans of suicide, and six reported suicide attempts.

The results suggest that patients who do not respond to treatment for childhood anxiety should be monitored and treated for later suicidal thoughts.

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Untreated Childhood Anxiety Predicts Suicidal Behavior

Penn Medicine researchers found that patients who did not respond to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety in childhood had more chronic and enduring patterns of suicidal ideation at 7 to 19 years after treatment. This study adds to the literature that suggests that successful CBT for childhood anxiety confers long-term benefits. The complete study is available in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

"This study underscores the importance of the identification and evidence-based treatment of youth anxiety," says lead author, Courtney Benjamin Wolk, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

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