Rethinking childhood depression

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7488.418 (Published 17 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:418

Does childhood depression exist?

  1. D B Double, consultant psychiatrist (dbdouble{at}dbdouble.co.uk)
  1. Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Partnership, Hellesdon Hospital, Norwich NR6 5BE

    EDITOR—For the debate about rethinking childhood depression to degenerate into a semantic argument about its existence would be unfortunate.1 Reification of biomedical diagnosis acts as a justification for so called evidence based treatments, which currently in the case of childhood depression are antidepressant drugs, cognitive behaviour therapy, and interpersonal therapy. The question is whether this process of reification is necessary for clinical practice, and I agree with Timimi that it is not.1

    The onus is on Spender and Wilkinson to define exactly what they mean when they use the term childhood depression, which they do not do in their commentaries.1

    In the same issue Wade and Halligan ask whether biomedical models of illness make for good healthcare systems.2 The potential danger of the biomedical model is reductionism. By contrast, psychosocial diagnosis does not necessarily require a single word label, and that single word label may not add much to the understanding and meaning of emotional problems. Such an approach is consistent with patient centred medicine and means that the patient is not merely seen as a passive recipient of treatment for which he or she has no responsibility.3 A psychosocial perspective in clinical practice therefore has advantages.

    I suspect that the issue in this debate boils down to the readiness to use antidepressant drugs in children. Both Spender and Wilkinson quote the treatment for adolescents with depression study (TADS) in favour of the use of fluoxetine,4 but they do not mention criticisms of it.5 Fluoxetine was not in fact statistically better than placebo in this study and only became so when added to cognitive behaviour therapy in an unblinded arm. Strictly speaking, Spender and Wilkinson have therefore not provided support for their position. I prefer Timimi's critical approach, which takes a sceptical stance on the evidence, more in keeping with the spirit of scientific inquiry.


    • Competing interests DBD is a member of the Critical Psychiatry Network, as is Sami Timimi.


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