Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of Omega-3 and Individual–Family Psychoeducational Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents With Depression

Mary A. Fristad, Anthony T. Vesco, Andrea Young, K. Zachary Healy, Elias S. Nader, William Gardner, Adina M. Seidenfeld, Hannah L. Wolfson, L. Eugene Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The goal of this study is to evaluate feasibility and estimate effect sizes of omega-3 fatty acids (Ω3), individual-family psychoeducational psychotherapy (PEP), their combination, and moderating effects of maternal depression and psychosocial stressors in youth with depression. In a pilot 2 × 2 randomized controlled trial, 72 youth (ages 7–14; 57% Caucasian, 57% male) with major depression, dysthymia, or depression not otherwise specified were randomized to 12 weeks of Ω3, PEP+placebo, Ω3+PEP, or placebo. Ω3 versus placebo was double-masked. Evaluators masked to condition assessed depressive severity at baseline (randomization) and at 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 weeks using the Children’s Depression Rating Scale–Revised. Side effects were either absent or mild. PEP was administered with 74% fidelity. Remission was 77%, Ω3+PEP; 61%, PEP+placebo; 44%, Ω3; 56%, placebo. Intent-to-treat analyses found small to medium effects of combined treatment (d = .29) and Ω3 monotherapy (d = .42), but negligible effect for PEP+placebo (d < .10), all compared to placebo alone. Relative to placebo, youth with fewer social stressors responded better to Ω3 (p = .04), PEP (p = .028), and their combination (p = .035), and those with maternal depression responded better to PEP (p = .020) than did those without maternal depression. Remission rates were favorable compared to other studies of psychotherapy and comparable to an existing randomized controlled trial of Ω3; results warrant further evaluation in a larger sample. Ω3 was well tolerated. Active treatments show significantly more placebo-controlled depression improvement in the context of maternal depression and fewer stressors, suggesting that they may benefit depression with a more endogenous than environmental origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - Nov 6 2016
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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