The SWELL clinical trial: Preventing depression in young people who have a parent with a history of depression

Vicky completed her PhD at Cardiff University and works as a postdoctoral research associate at the Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health, based at Cardiff University. Vicky’s PhD work focussed on investigating the link between ADHD and depression, and her work now centres on prevention of depression in young people. Vicky is a senior researcher on the Skills for Adolescent WELLbeing (SWELL) study, working as part of a team running a clinical trial of a group wellbeing program aimed at preventing depression in young people who have a parent with a history of depression.

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We are currently recruiting parents with a history of depression and a child aged 13-17 to take part in an exciting new study testing whether a group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) program that teaches skills for wellbeing can prevent depression or reduce depression symptoms in young people.


Young people who have a parent with a history of depression are more likely to suffer from depression themselves (Lieb et al., 2002; Rice et al., 2017; Weissman et al., 2006). This is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) have identified the children of depressed parents as a group for whom early intervention and prevention programs are important (WHO, 2021). One program that has shown promise for preventing depression in young people with a history of parental depression is a group CBT-based program that was trialled by Garber and colleagues in the US (Garber et al. 2009). While this program was effective at preventing depression episodes in the young people over a 9-month follow-up period, the authors found that it did not seem to be effective for young people when the parent was currently depressed at the start of the study.

The SWELL program:

I am working as part of the Skills for Adolescent WELLbeing (SWELL) study team, who have updated the program tested by Garber and colleagues for a modern, UK context and so that it can be used in an online setting. We are recruiting parents with a history of depression and their children (aged 13 – 17) and aim to test whether the updated program can prevent depression episodes occurring in these young people or reduce their depression symptoms. Young people will meet in groups of 6 to 8 on Zoom with a trained therapist and will be guided through sessions that will teach the young people various skills to support their wellbeing. As this is a clinical trial, not all young people who are eligible for the study will receive the group wellbeing program. The other young people will be allowed to continue with any treatment they usually receive or start new treatment if needed. Young people will have a 50/50 chance of being assigned either to the group wellbeing program or to the ‘treatment as usual’ group, and this will be decided randomly, like the toss of a coin.

As there is evidence that current parental depression can reduce the effectiveness of this program in preventing adolescent depression, we will assess whether parents are currently depressed at the beginning of the study. If a parent is currently depressed, before their child is randomly assigned to either the group wellbeing program or to continue with any treatment as usual, the parent will meet with a psychiatrist from the SWELL team who will assess their symptoms and come up with a treatment plan. This might involve advice on lifestyle changes, recommending changes to depression medication to their GP, or initiating an internet CBT program for the parent to work through over several weeks. After this meeting, every 2 weeks for 12 weeks in total, a member of our team will check in with the parent to see how they are getting on. The aim of this is to try to get the parent to the best possible place before young people start the study, which we hope will mean that the group wellbeing program works better for those young people who receive it.

Assessments and compensation:

All young people and parents who take part in the study will be asked to complete assessments (questionnaires and interviews) with our research team at the start of the study, 3 months into the study, and 9 months into the study. This is so we can test whether the program is effective at preventing depression in the young people, and if so, how it might work. All young people and parents will receive up to £50 in vouchers as a thank you for their time.


As well as getting advice from various experts in the field when planning this study, we have also consulted our Youth Advisory Group at the Wolfson Centre. This group are experts by experience – young people with lived experience of mental health problems. We hope that this will mean that our study is an exciting and engaging one to take part in, as well as being an important study for young people who have a parent with a history of depression. If we find the group wellbeing program works at preventing depression in these young people, we hope that this can be rolled out across the UK to those who need it in the future.

If you are interested in taking part, please go to to register your interest, and a member of the team will be in touch to see if you are eligible to take part. For more information on the study, please get in touch with us via email at or visit our website.

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