Does Lowering Depression Improve Cardiac Health?

Does Lowering Depression Improve Cardiac Health?

By  Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

How can we improve the outcome of medical treatment for disease?  More specifically, if a patient has an acute coronary condition can lowering his levels of depression result in better health?

While earlier research was not conclusive, more recent results indicate yes:  reducing depression does significantly improve the outcome of treatment for acute heart disease (https://jamanetwork.com).  In this particular study, 300 patients followed for an average of 8 years had a better outcome when they were also treated with Lexapro (an anti-depressant medication in the category of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRI).  All these patients, average age of 60 (119 of them women), were identified as experiencing depression, a not uncommon issue for many cardiac patients.

As a Ph.D. clinical psychologist (not an MD or psychiatrist), a logical question follows:  What about treatment for depression that is not medication-based?  Effective psychotherapies have been demonstrated for depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or short-term, solution focused psychodynamic therapy.  While less immediately effective perhaps than medication alone, such treatments have been demonstrated to have beneficial effects roughly equivalent to medication over a longer timeframe, without the possible side effects of medications.  Psychotherapy also helps a patient develop coping skills and lifestyle changes that can sustain a person for years to come, without the need for ongoing use of medication in many instances.  In some studies, a combined approach of medication and psychotherapy has been shown most effective, which would allow a patient to reduce or eliminate the anti-depressant medication at some point.

Such coping skills and lifestyle changes are beneficial in dealing with other challenges we all face, other than depression.  Overall, isn’t less medication a preferable option?  Skilled psychotherapy with an experienced therapist can help a patient pursue this option.

Dr. Alan M. Solomon is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310  539-2772 or dralanms@gmail.com.

Copyright 2018 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.