New research suggests that talk therapy for depression may have the added benefit of protecting against heart disease.
The study of almost 637,000 people who took part in talk therapy offered by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) between 2012 and 2020 found that those whose depression symptoms improved were 12% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and death.
While this is the first time a link has been established between talk therapy and cardiovascular disease, the study does not prove a causal effect. More research is needed to better understand the mechanisms involved, which could be biological or linked to lifestyle behaviours. Globally, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death, claiming 18.6 million people worldwide in 2019.
Talking therapies, which are free and offered by the NHS, aim to treat anxiety and depression, which affect an estimated 1 in 4 adults every year. The program offers cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, and guided self-help.
Depressive symptoms were measured using a questionnaire that considers sleep issues, lack of interest in doing things, and low mood. These findings were then linked to patients’ healthcare records to look for heart events. The study also found that people under 60 who improved after talk therapy had a 15% lower risk of heart disease and a 22% lower risk of premature death from all causes. Patients over 60 saw a smaller benefit, with their risk for heart disease dropping 5% and their risk of early death from other causes dropping 14%.
Dr Scott Krakower, a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York, believes that the best treatments for depression combine medication and talk therapy.
He states that medication is a mainstream treatment for depression, but therapy is important because targeted symptoms can be addressed and a one-on-one meeting can help people work through things that medication may not address.
He also notes that treating depression can lead to lifestyle improvements that benefit overall health, such as eating healthier and exercising, which can improve heart health in particular. Krakower encourages anyone feeling anxious or increasingly depressed to seek out treatment as it can open doors to better understanding oneself and being more receptive to changing one’s lifestyle.
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