1 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER A Quick Reference Guide Based on Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder, Second Edition, originally published in April
2 For Continuing Medical Education credit for APA Practice Guidelines, visit To order individual Practice Guidelines or the 2002 Compendium of APA Practice Guidelines, visit or call
3 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 3 Introduction Treating Major Depressive Disorder: A Quick Reference Guide is a summary and synopsis of the American Psychiatric Association s Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Major Depressive Disorder, Second Edition, which was originally published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in April 2000 and is available through American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. The Quick Reference Guide is not designed to stand on its own and should be used in conjunction with the full text of the Practice Guideline. Graphical algorithms illustrating the treatment of major depressive disorder are included. Statement of Intent The Practice Guidelines and the Quick Reference Guides are not intended to be construed or to serve as a standard of medical care. Standards of medical care are determined on the basis of all clinical data available for an individual case and are subject to change as scientific knowledge and technology advance and practice patterns evolve. These parameters of practice should be considered guidelines only. Adherence to them will not ensure a successful outcome in every case, nor should they be construed as including all proper methods of care or excluding other acceptable methods of care aimed at the same results. The ultimate judgment regarding a particular clinical procedure or treatment plan must be made by the psychiatrist in light of the clinical data presented by the patient and the diagnostic and treatment options available. The development of the APA Practice Guidelines and Quick Reference Guides has not been financially supported by any commercial organization.
4 4 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER OUTLINE B. Acute Phase Treatment 1. Choice of Initial Treatment Modality...9 a. Pharmacotherapy...9 b. Psychotherapy Alone...11 c. Combined Pharmacotherapy and Psychotherapy...11 d. Electroconvulsive Therapy Choice of Antidepressant...12 a. Principles of Choosing an Initial Antidepressant...12 b. Implementation of Antidepressant Therapy...14 c. Initial Failure to Respond...16 d. Continued Failure to Respond Choice of Psychotherapy...19 a. Principles of Choosing a Psychotherapy...19 b. Psychotherapy Implementation Choice of Medication Plus Psychotherapy Assessing Adequacy of Treatment Response...20 A. Psychiatric Management 1. Perform a diagnostic evaluation Evaluate the safety of the patient and others Evaluate and address functional impairments Determine the treatment setting Establish and maintain a therapeutic alliance Monitor psychiatric status and safety Provide education to the patient and, when appropriate, to his or her family Enhance medication adherence Address early signs of relapse...8 C. Continuation Phase...20 D. Maintenance Phase...21 E. Discontinuation of Active Treatment...22
5 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 5 A. Psychiatric Management Throughout the formulation of a treatment plan and all subsequent phases of treatment, the following principles of psychiatric management should be kept in mind: 1. Perform a diagnostic evaluation. For general principles and components of a psychiatric evaluation, refer to APA s Practice Guideline for the Psychiatric Evaluation of Adults. Determine whether the diagnosis is depression. Determine whether there is psychiatric and general medical comorbidity. Include the following in the evaluation: History of the present illness and current symptoms Psychiatric history, including symptoms of mania Treatment history with current treatments and responses to previous treatments General medical history History of substance use disorders Personal history (e.g., psychological development, response to life transitions, major life events) Social, occupational, and family histories Review of the patient s medications Review of systems Mental status examination Physical examination Diagnostic tests as indicated
6 6 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 2. Evaluate the safety of the patient and others. Assessment of suicide risk is essential (see Table 1, p. 7). If the patient demonstrates suicidal or homicidal ideation, intention, or plans, close monitoring is required. Hospitalization should be considered if risk is significant. Note, however, that the ability to predict attempted or completed suicide is poor. 3. Evaluate and address functional impairments. Impairments include deficits in interpersonal relationships, work and living conditions, and other medical- or health-related needs. Address identified impairments (e.g., scheduling absences from work). 4. Determine the treatment setting. Choose appropriate site, considering the following: Clinical condition (including symptom severity, comorbidity, suicidality, homicidality, and level of functioning) Available support systems Ability of the patient to adequately care for self, provide reliable feedback to the psychiatrist, and cooperate with treatment Reevaluate optimal setting on an ongoing basis. Consider hospitalization if the patient poses serious threat of harm to self or others (involuntary hospitalization may be necessary if patient refuses), is severely ill and lacks adequate social supports (alternatively, intensive day treatment may be appropriate), has certain comorbid psychiatric or general medical conditions, or has not responded adequately to outpatient treatment.
7 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 7 5. Establish and maintain a therapeutic alliance. It is important to pay attention to the concerns of the patient and his or her family. Be aware of transference and countertransference issues. 6. Monitor psychiatric status and safety. Monitor the patient for changes in destructive impulses to self and others. Be vigilant in monitoring changes in psychiatric status, including major depressive symptoms and symptoms of potential comorbid conditions. Consider diagnostic reevaluation if symptoms change significantly or if new symptoms emerge. TABLE 1. Considerations in the Evaluation for Suicide Risk Presence of suicidal or homicidal ideation, intent, or plans Access to means for suicide and the lethality of those means Presence of psychotic symptoms, command hallucinations, or severe anxiety Presence of alcohol or substance use History and seriousness of previous attempts Family history of or recent exposure to suicide
8 8 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 7. Provide education to the patient and, when appropriate, to his or her family. Emphasize that major depressive disorder is a real illness. Education about treatments helps patients make informed decisions, be aware of side effects, and adhere to treatment. 8. Enhance medication adherence. To improve adherence, emphasize when and how often to take medication, the typical 2- to 4-week lag for beneficial effects to be noticed, need to continue medication even after feeling better, need to consult with the prescribing doctor before medication discontinuation, and what to do if problems arise. Improve adherence in elderly patients by simplifying the medication regimen and minimizing cost. Consider psychotherapeutic intervention for serious or persistent nonadherence. 9. Address early signs of relapse. Inform the patient (and, when appropriate, the family) about the significant risk of relapse. Educate the patient (and the family) about how to identify early signs and symptoms of new episodes.
9 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 9 Emphasize seeking help if signs of relapse appear, to prevent fullblown exacerbation. B. Acute Phase Treatment 1. Choice of Initial Treatment Modality (see Figure 1, p. 10) a. Pharmacotherapy Severity of Major Depressive Episode Mild Moderate to severe With psychotic features Pharmacotherapy Antidepressants if preferred by patient Antidepressants are treatment of choice (unless electroconvulsive therapy [ECT] is planned) Antidepressants plus antipsychotics or ECT Features suggesting that medication may be the preferred treatment include the following: History of prior positive response Severe symptomatology Significant sleep or appetite disturbances or agitation Anticipation of need for maintenance therapy Patient preference Lack of available alternative treatment modalities
10 10 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER FIGURE 1. Choice of Treatment Modalities for Major Depressive Disorder Do not include a specific effective psychotherapy in treatment plan and go to question 2 No #1 Should a specific effective psychotherapy be provided? Mild to moderate depression: preferred as solo treatment or in combination Moderate to severe depression: in combination with medication or ECT IF psychosocial issues are important and/or IF preferred Yes Include specific effective psychotherapy in treatment plan and go to question 2 #2 Should medication be provided? Do not include medication in treatment plan and go to question 3 No Mild depression: IF preferred as solo treatment Moderate to severe depression: with or without a specific effective psychotherapy unless ECT is planned Psychotic depression: combination of antipsychotic medication and antidepressant medication, or ECT Yes Include medication in treatment plan and continue to Other Treatment Considerations #3 Should medication and a specific effective psychotherapy both be provided? Do not include medication and a specific effective psychotherapy in treatment plan and go to question 4 No Mild depression: IF preferred as combination treatment History of partial response to single modality Poor compliance Moderate to severe depression: Prominent psychosocial issues Interpersonal problems Personality disorder Poor compliance Yes Include medication and a specific effective psychotherapy in treatment plan and continue to Other Treatment Considerations #4 Should ECT be provided? Do not include ECT in treatment plan and continue to Other Treatment Considerations No Chronic, moderate to severe depression: with or without a specific effective psychotherapy IF patient prefers Severe depression and any of the following: Psychotic features Patient prefers Previous preferential response, need of rapid antidepressant response, intolerance of medication Yes Include ECT in treatment plan and continue to Other Treatment Considerations Go to Other Treatment Considerations
11 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER Choice of Initial Treatment Modality (see Figure 1, p. 10) b. Psychotherapy Alone If the severity of the major depressive episode is mild to moderate, use psychotherapy if preferred by the patient. Features suggesting the use of psychotherapeutic interventions include the following: Presence of significant psychosocial stressors Intrapsychic conflict Interpersonal difficulties Comorbid personality disorder Pregnancy, lactation, or wish to become pregnant Patient preference 1. Choice of Initial Treatment Modality (see Figure 1, p. 10) c. Combined Pharmacotherapy and Psychotherapy Consider the use of combined pharmocotherapy and psychotherapy if the severity of the major depressive episode is mild to severe with clinically significant psychosocial issues, interpersonal problems, or a comorbid personality disorder. Other features suggesting combination treatment include the following: History of only partial response to single treatment modalities Poor adherence to treatments (combine medication with a psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on treatment adherence)
12 12 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 1. Choice of Initial Treatment Modality (see Figure 1, p. 10) d. Electroconvulsive Therapy Consider ECT if any of the following features are present: Major depressive episode with a high degree of symptom severity and functional impairment Psychotic symptoms or catatonia Urgent need for response (e.g., suicidality or nutritional compromise in a patient refusing food) ECT may be the preferred treatment when the presence of comorbid medical conditions precludes the use of antidepressant medications, there is a prior history of positive response to ECT, or the patient expresses a preference for ECT. 2. Choice of Antidepressant a. Principles of Choosing an Initial Antidepressant See Table 2 (p. 13) for a list of antidepressants and dosage ranges. Because there is comparable efficacy between and within classes of medications, the initial selection is based largely on the following considerations: Anticipated side effects Safety or tolerability of side effects for individual patients Patient preference Quantity and quality of clinical trial data Cost Based on these factors, the following medications are likely to be effective for most patients: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), desipramine, nortriptyline, bupropion, venlafaxine, nefazodone, and mirtazapine.
13 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 13 TABLE 2. Dosage Ranges for Antidepressant Medications Starting Dosage Usual Dosage Generic Name (mg/day) a (mg/day) Tricyclics and tetracyclics Tertiary amine tricyclics Amitriptyline Clomipramine Doxepin Imipramine Trimipramine Secondary amine tricyclics Desipramine b Nortriptyline b Protriptyline Tetracyclics Amoxapine Maprotiline SSRIs Citalopram b c Fluoxetine b c Fluvoxamine b c Paroxetine b c Sertraline b c Dopamine-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors Bupropion b Bupropion, sustained release b Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors Venlafaxine b Venlafaxine, extended release b Serotonin modulators Nefazodone Trazodone Norepinephrine-serotonin modulator Mirtazapine MAOIs Irreversible, nonselective Phenelzine Tranylcypromine a Lower starting dosages are recommended for elderly patients and for patients with panic disorder, significant anxiety or hepatic disease, and general comorbidity. b These medications are likely to be optimal medications in terms of the patient s acceptance of side effects, safety, and quantity and quality of clinical trial data. c Dose varies with diagnosis; see text for specific guidelines.
14 14 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 2. Choice of Antidepressant a. Principles of Choosing an Initial Antidepressant (continued) Consider other features, including the following: History of prior response with a particular antidepressant Presence of comorbid psychiatric or general medical conditions (e.g., tertiary amine tricyclic antidepressants [TCAs] may not be optimal in patients with cardiovascular conditions or acute angle glaucoma) Use monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) only for patients who do not respond to other treatments, because of MAOIs dietary restrictions and potentially serious side effects. MAOIs may be particularly effective for major depressive episodes with atypical features (although in clinical practice, SSRIs are now commonly used for atypical depression because of their more favorable adverse effect profile). 2. Choice of Antidepressant b. Implementation of Antidepressant Therapy Start at the dosage levels suggested in Table 2 (p. 13). Titrate to full therapeutic dosage, taking the following considerations into account: Side effects Patient s age Comorbid illnesses (e.g., starting and therapeutic doses should be reduced [generally to half] in elderly or medically frail patients)
15 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 15 Monitor to assess the following: Treatment response Side effects (see Figure 2, below) Clinical condition Safety (e.g., suicidality) Determine the monitoring frequency. Frequency depends on severity of illness, suicide risk, significant side effects or drug interactions, patient s cooperation with treatment, availability of social supports, and presence of comorbid general medical problems. Determine the method of monitoring (face-to-face, phone, or contact, contact with a physician knowledgeable about the patient) according to clinical context. FIGURE 2. Management of Medication Side Effects Inform patient of potential side effects, including those that require immediate attention Monitor for the presence of side effects If problematic side effects are present, consider the following options: Watch and wait (if no immediate medical risk) Alter medication dose, frequency, or time of administration Change to a different medication Provide specific treatment for side effects Continue to monitor for side effects; pay special attention to the following: Medical risk Patient s adherence to treatment Patient satisfaction
16 16 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 2. Choice of Antidepressant c. Initial Failure to Respond If the patient is not at least moderately improved after 4 to 8 weeks, reappraise the treatment regimen (see Figure 3, p. 17). Investigate the patient s adherence to treatment. Consider pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic factors (may require serum antidepressant medication levels). Revise the treatment plan and consider the following options: Maximize the initial therapeutic treatment dose. - For partial responders, extend the trial (e.g., by 2 to 4 weeks). - For nonresponders on moderate doses or those with low serum levels, raise the dose and monitor for increased side effects. Add, change, or increase the frequency of psychotherapy. Switch to another non-maoi medication (see Table 2, p. 13, and Table 3, p. 18) in either the same class or a different class, particularly if there is lack of partial response. Especially if there is partial response, augment with - a non-maoi antidepressant from a different class (be alert to drug-drug interactions), or - another adjuvant medication (e.g., lithium, thyroid hormone, anticonvulsants, psychostimulants). Switch to an MAOI. Institute ECT.
17 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 17 FIGURE 3. Acute Phase Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder Start of Trial: Medication and/or Psychotherapy If no response and clinical severity warrants, consider the following: Increase in dose of medication Increase in intensity of psychotherapy ECT Monitor: Degree of danger to self or others Symptomatic status Functional status 4 8 Weeks: Reassess Adequacy of Response Response to treatment Side effects (see Figure 2) Compliance No Response If patient is currently receiving medication, consider: Changing antidepressant a Adding psychotherapy ECT Partial Response If patient is currently receiving medication, consider: Changing dose Augmenting antidepressant Changing antidepressant a Adding psychotherapy ECT Full Response Go to Continuation Phase Treatment Signs of switch to mania Other mental disorders, including alcohol and substance abuse General medical comorbidities If patient is currently receiving psychotherapy, consider: Adding or changing to medication If patient is currently receiving psychotherapy, consider: Changing intensity of psychotherapy Changing type of psychotherapy Adding or changing to medication Additional 4 8 Weeks: Reassess Adequacy of Response a Choose either another antidepressant from the same class or, if two previous medication trials from the same class were ineffective, an antidepressant from a different class.
18 18 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER TABLE 3. Required Washout Times Between Antidepressant Trials Antidepressant Change To MAOI from drug with long half-life metabolites (e.g., fluoxetine) To MAOI from drug without long half-life metabolites (e.g., TCA, paroxetine, fluvoxamine, venlafaxine) or other MAOI To non-maoi antidepressant from MAOI Minimum Washout Period 5 weeks 2 weeks 2 weeks 2. Choice of Antidepressant d. Continued Failure to Respond Verify the patient s diagnosis and adherence to treatment. If the patient does not show at least moderate improvement after an additional 4 to 8 weeks, explore the presence of other factors that might interfere with improvement: Comorbid general medical conditions Comorbid psychiatric disorders (including substance abuse) Significant psychosocial problems If the steps above do not clarify the reason for the nonresponse, consider consultation or possibly ECT.
19 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER Choice of Psychotherapy a. Principles of Choosing a Psychotherapy Choose the modality of therapy: Cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy have the best research-documented efficacy. Psychodynamic psychotherapy, supported by broad clinical consensus, is usually oriented toward both symptomatic improvement and broader personality issues. Consider other factors: Patient preference Availability of clinicians with appropriate training and expertise in the specific approach 3. Choice of Psychotherapy b. Psychotherapy Implementation Determine the frequency of psychotherapy. Frequency generally ranges from once to several times per week in the acute phase and depends on specific type and goals of psychotherapy, need to create and maintain a therapeutic relationship, need to ensure treatment adherence, and need to monitor and address suicidality. In situations with more than one treating clinician, maintain ongoing contact with the patient and other clinicians. If the patient does not show at least moderate improvement after 4 to 8 weeks, conduct a thorough review and reappraisal (see Figure 3, p. 17).
20 20 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 4. Choice of Medication Plus Psychotherapy Consider the same issues that influence the choice of medication (see section B.2, p. 12) and psychotherapy (see section B.3, p. 19). If the patient does not show at least moderate improvement after 4 to 8 weeks, conduct a thorough review, including of adherence and pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic factors. If the patient does not show at least moderate improvement after an additional 4 to 8 weeks following a change, conduct another thorough review and consider consultation or possibly ECT. 5. Assessing Adequacy of Treatment Response Do not conclude acute phase treatment if the patient shows only partial response. Partial response is associated with poor functional outcome. C. Continuation Phase The continuation phase is defined as the 16- to 20-week period after sustained and complete remission from the acute phase. To prevent relapse, continue antidepressant medication at the same dose used during the acute phase. Consider the use of psychotherapy to help prevent relapse. Consider providing ECT if medication or psychotherapy has not been effective.
21 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 21 Set frequency of visits depending on clinical condition and specific treatments used. Frequency can vary from once every 2 to 3 months to multiple times per week. D. Maintenance Phase The goal during the maintenance phase is to prevent recurrences of major depressive episodes (see Table 4, p. 22, for factors to consider). Continue using the treatment that was effective in the acute and continuation phases. Employ the same full antidepressant medication dosages used in prior phases of treatment. Set the frequency of visits according to clinical condition and specific treatments used. Frequency can range from as low as once every 2 to 3 months for stable patients to as high as multiple times per week for those in psychodynamic psychotherapy. Consider ECT maintenance for patients who have repeated moderate or severe episodes despite adequate pharmacological treatment (or who are unable to tolerate maintenance medication).
22 22 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER TABLE 4. Considerations in the Decision to Use Maintenance Treatment Factor Risk of recurrence Severity of episodes Component Number of prior episodes; presence of comorbid conditions; residual symptoms between episodes Suicidality; psychotic features; severe functional impairments Side effects experienced with continuous treatment Patient preferences E. Discontinuation of Active Treatment Consider whether to discontinue treatment based on the same factors considered in the decision to initiate maintenance treatment. For example, consider the probability of recurrence and the frequency and severity of past episodes (see Table 4, above, and Table 5, p. 23). When discontinuing psychotherapy, the best method depends on the patient s needs and type of psychotherapy, the duration of treatment, and the intensity of treatment. To discontinue pharmacotherapy, taper the dose over at least several weeks. Facilitates more rapid return to a full dose if symptoms recur. Minimizes the risk of antidepressant discontinuation syndromes (more likely with shorter half-life antidepressants).
23 TREATING MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER 23 Establish a plan to restart treatment in case of relapse. If the patient experiences a relapse when medication is discontinued, resume the previously successful treatment. TABLE 5. Risk Factors for Recurrence of Major Depressive Disorder Prior history of multiple episodes of major depressive disorder Persistence of dysthymic symptoms after recovery from an episode of major depressive disorder Presence of an additional, nonaffective psychiatric diagnosis Presence of a chronic general medical condition
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