Using talk therapies, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to alleviate depression and lower the risk of a heart attack sounds like a sensible idea doesn’t it?
UCL researchers decided to run with this idea and, in the first-of-its-kind study, they questioned whether psychological therapies, like CBT, could help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.
These diseases, such as stroke and heart disease, are the leading cause of death worldwide, and represent a third of all deaths, with 18.6 million people having died from this cause in 2019 globally.
We already know people who have depression are more than 70% more likely to get cardiovascular disease in their lifetime, compared to people who have not.
The new research analyses data from 636,955 people over the age of 45 who accessed treatment via England’s nationwide Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service (soon to be called NHS Talking Therapies for anxiety and depression) between 2012 and 2020.
IAPT is a free service and offers CBT, counselling and guided self-help, with sessions delivered either face to face or in groups online.
Depressive symptoms such as a lack of interest in doing things, issues with sleep, and feelings of low mood were measured.
Researchers then linked the depression scores with patients’ healthcare records to look for new cardiovascular events.
The team found that people whose depression improved after talking therapy were less likely to suffer cardio- vascular disease, compared to people whose depression didn’t improve.
Reliable improvement from depression showed a 12% 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% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and 22% decreased risk of death from all causes respectively.
Meanwhile, those over the age of 60 had a 5% decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and 14% decreased risk of death from all other causes.
Lead author, PhD candidate Celine El Baou of 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 to 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.”