By Yasmin Noone

Australian researchers have embarked on a world-first study which seeks to examine the effectiveness of psychological treatments targeting both anxiety and depression together.

The ground-breaking Macquarie University study will attempt to help the many older people who suffer from the symptoms of both conditions at the same time by determining which psychological treatment program works best.

Conducted by the university’s Centre for Emotional Health and funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the study marks a turning point in mental health research.

Principal investigator for the Older Adult Treatment Study (OATS), Dr Viviana Wuthrich, said that although much attention has been paid to anxiety and depression treatment programs, previous studies have never tackled the two conditions at once.

“While anxiety and depression are common problems, researchers don’t try and treat the two disorders together,” said Dr Wuthrich. 

“And because depression is more prevalent, generally speaking, in the population, it gets most of the attention.

“There is also a small amount of research focused on anxiety and it is usually on the one type – generalized anxiety disorder.

“But in fact the conditions go hand in hand with each other. Studies show us that almost half the number of people with depression also have problems with anxiety.

“So here at the centre we’ve tried to take that holistic approach and see if we can treat the two conditions together rather than one at a time.”

The three-year trial will compare and contrast the results of two different pscyhologcial treatment programs – one which focuses on retraining the way people think and behave, and the other at improving mental stimulation, social interaction and support.

“There is a perception out there that you can’t do anything to help older adults with anxiety and depression and that [it is best] to prescribe the person [antidepressant] drugs.

“Typically, when a GP hears the older person is depressed, the first thing they do is to get them on medication which can be problematic because they will probably be taking a whole lot of other medications for other ailments.”

But, she said, “…by the end of the trial’s third year, we will know the best psychological treatment for older adults with anxiety and depression. It will add to the research we already have that says we can treat anxiety and depression in older adults and hone particular treatment skills which are more effective.”

The trial is currently seeking around 200 volunteers who suffer from anxiety and depression and who are over the age of 60.

All volunteers will receive free psychological treatment for their anxiety and depression for 12 weeks. They will also be assessed before and six months after treatment to identify changes in behaviour, mood and health.

“If you can identify older adults that could benefit from the program, get them to give us a call so we can chat more about what is involved.”

For more information, contact the Emotional Health Clinic at Macquarie University on 02 9850 8711. 

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1 Comment

  1. My mother has suffered depression for 33 years. It started when she lost my father and her mother within six months. She has taken Nardel to help with the chemical imbalance. Over the last 10 years anxiety has become her biggest problem. It is crippling. Because she takes Nardel there are no other anti-depressants that can be prescribed.

    At 88 she has difficulty understanding what a psychologist has to offer and has a fear of psychiatry. She worries that she will end up in a mental institution.

    She lives in Melbourne so I guess she would not be appropriate for the program, but I am wondering if there is anything at all that can be done to help her?

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