Hunter researchers have shown that coronary heart disease patients who feel depressed or anxious can benefit from group therapy.
Results of the 'BraveHeart' study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, showed a significant reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms after the therapy, which was maintained for six months after treatment.
"It is known that depression increases the risk of heart disease, and of further heart problems. But screening for depression and offering treatment is not yet a routine clinical practice for cardiac patients," said lead author Mr John Hambridge, a Senior Clinical Psychologist with Hunter New England Health and a member of the Hunter Medical Research Institute's (HMRI) Brain and Mental Health Research Program.
"Results of our pilot study were promising and suggest that the BraveHeart therapy may be an effective and economical way of treating depression and anxiety in cardiac patients. If these results are supported in future trials in time it could be adopted by other Australian and overseas hospitals."
The pilot study involved 39 patients at John Hunter Hospital, New South Wales, who were experiencing significant symptoms of depression or anxiety at the end of cardiac rehabilitation.
During the six week program participants were taught how to monitor moods, solve problems, and monitor and challenge negative thoughts.
"Our initial screening of cardiac rehabilitation patients suggested that a high number were experiencing ongoing distress after their heart problems. We wanted to offer patients an intervention that helps them deal with this distress, particularly symptoms of depression," said Dr Alyna Turner, an HMRI Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle.
"We saw an improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms. Patients felt that participating in the BraveHeart group therapy was positive in terms of learning tools and strategies to deal with distress. They also found it beneficial to be around people who were experiencing similar challenges, and realise that they were not alone."
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of premature death and disability in Australia. It is predicted that it will be the world's leading health problem by 2020. Coronary heart disease and depression are the largest contributors to the burden of disease in Australia.
The study was conducted by Mr John Hambridge from Hunter New England Health and Dr Alyna Turner and Professor Amanda Baker from the University of Newcastle. They are members of the Hunter Medical Research Institute's (HMRI) Brain and Mental Health Research Program, the University of Newcastle's Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research, and the University's Faculty of Science and IT.
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.
This research was funded by a grant from HMRI Life Governor Jennie Thomas AM.
Vision opportunity - 10.15am, Thursday 8th April 2010
Lead researchers and a Braveheart study participant are available for interviews and photo/vision.
Meet in the foyer of the Royal Newcastle Centre (adjacent to John Hunter Hospital), Lookout Road, New Lambton.