Using talking therapies to effectively treat depression in adults over the age of 45 may be linked with reduced rates of future cardiovascular disease, according to new research from University College London (UCL).
In the first-of-its-kind study, researchers assessed whether evidence-based psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), used to treat depression could play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
Previous studies have also shown that people who experience depression are approximately 72 per cent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease in their lifetime, compared to people who do not.
The new research analysed data from 636,955 people over the age of 45 who accessed treatment via England’s national Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, between 2012 and 2020.
IAPT is a free service and offers CBT, counselling and guided self-help, with sessions delivered either face-to-face individually or virtually in groups.
Depressive symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), which considers factors such as a lack of interest in doing things, sleep problems and feelings of low mood.
The researchers then linked the IAPT outcomes (depression scores) with patients’ healthcare records to look for new incidence of cardiovascular events.
The researchers found that people whose depression symptoms reliably improved after psychological treatment were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease over an average of three years of follow-up, compared to those who did not.
Reliable improvement from depression (compared to no reliable improvement) was associated with a 12 per cent decrease in future cardiovascular disease at any given time, with similar results observed for coronary heart disease, stroke and death.
The association was stronger in people below 60 years old, who had a 15 per cent decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and 22 per cent decreased risk of death from all causes respectively.
Meanwhile, those over the age of 60 had a 5 per cent decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and 14 per cent decreased risk of death from all other causes.
Lead author, PhD candidate Celine El Baou (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said:
“This study is the first to establish a link between psychological therapy outcomes and future risk of cardiovascular disease.
“The findings are important as they suggest that the benefits of psychological therapy may extend beyond mental health outcomes and have long-term physical health.
“They stress the importance of increasing access to psychological therapy to under-represented groups, for example minority ethnic groups who may be more at risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease.”
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