Empathetic GPs may reduce depression and suicidal thoughts

July 18, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- Between five and 10 per cent of people over 60 suffer from depression - a common and disabling disorder. It is predicted that depression will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide within the next 10 years, making it a major public health problem.

In the biggest study of depression in older people in Australia, researchers at The University of Western Australia and nationally showed that by educating GPs, it was possible to reduce the prevalence of depression, self-harm and in their older patients.

Published in the , the study found that a physician's empathy and willingness to discuss the emotional concerns of patients might play an important role in reducing self-harm thoughts and depression.

The study's chief investigator, Winthrop Professor Osvaldo Almeida at UWA's Centre for Health and Ageing, said more than 370 GPs and almost 22,000 patients took part in the two-year study. Some of the GPs (the ) received no structured education while others had their practice reviewed and received relevant educational material and six-monthly newsletters over the two years of the study.

"We wanted to test a more universal approach to , one that would not be limited to older people who show overt or slight ," Professor Almeida said.

"The patients seen by the GPs who had received the educational intervention were less likely to display or self-harming behaviour after two years than the controls. In other words, the relative number of people with these problems decreased in the .

"What caused these changes is not entirely clear, but the benefits could not be explained by more frequent use of antidepressants or greater contact with health services. The most plausible explanation is that the GPs who received the intervention were more willing to discuss their patients' emotional concerns and that this greater openness and empathy made all the difference."

Professor Almeida said the intervention was simple and inexpensive, although replication of the results is required before the study activities can be recommended for adoption in normal clinical practice.

"Our results are exciting because they indicate that we may be able to decrease the prevalence of depression and self-harm behaviour in the community by means of targeted education of health professionals. They also suggest that, in some instances, the relationship between patients and physicians might be more therapeutic than the drugs they prescribe."

Explore further: Hepatitis C drug can cause depression

Related Stories

Hepatitis C drug can cause depression

May 1, 2012
There's a high rate of depression among patients with hepatitis C, but a standard treatment for the disease includes a drug, interferon, that can cause depression.

Anxiety, depression common in adults with arthritis

July 9, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Anxiety and depression are both common among U.S. adults with arthritis, with anxiety found more often than depression, according to a study published in the July issue of Arthritis Care & Research.

Recommended for you

Self-harm, suicide attempts climb among US girls, study says

November 21, 2017
Attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury have increased substantially in U.S. girls, a 15-year study of emergency room visits found.

Car, stroller, juice: Babies understand when words are related

November 20, 2017
The meaning behind infants' screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder

November 20, 2017
A groundbreaking Loyola Medicine study suggests that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.

Non-fearful social withdrawal linked positively to creativity

November 20, 2017
Everyone needs an occasional break from the social ramble, though spending too much time alone can be unhealthy and there is growing evidence that the psychosocial effects of too much solitude can last a lifetime.

Cultural values can be a strong predictor of alcohol consumption

November 20, 2017
Countries with populations that value autonomy and harmony tend to have higher average levels of alcohol consumption than countries with more traditional values, such as hierarchy and being part of a collective. This new ...

A walk at the mall or the park? New study shows, for moms and daughters, a walk in the park is best

November 17, 2017
Spending time together with family may help strengthen the family bond, but new research from the University of Illinois shows that specifically spending time outside in nature—even just a 20-minute walk—together can ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.