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In brief: New talking therapy for depression offers effective, cheaper alternative to CBT


An image of a person receiving talking therapy
Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

New talking therapy could be more effective and cheaper for treating depression than CBT


A pilot trial conducted by the University of Exeter has shown promising results for a new talking therapy called augmented depression therapy (ADept) for the treatment of depression.


The trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that ADept may be more effective and cost-efficient than the current best practice, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).


ADept attempts to address core features of depression, such as anhedonia (reduced pleasure or interest) and well-being deficits, which are often not adequately targeted by existing psychotherapies like CBT.


The therapy aims to build well-being while reducing depressive symptoms.


In the pilot trial, 82 adults with moderate-to-severe depression and anhedonia were randomly assigned to receive either 20 individual sessions of ADept or CBT.


The participants were primarily recruited from NHS Talking Therapy service waiting lists in Devon, and were assessed at the beginning of the trial and at six, 12, and 18 months.


The results indicated that ADept was at least as effective as CBT in reducing depression and showed potential for being even better at building well-being.


The therapy was also found to be cost-effective, delivering similar outcomes as CBT but resulting in greater gains in quality of life.


ADept has been designed to be deliverable by existing CBT therapists with minimal additional training so, if further research can ensure ADept's reliability, and finds it to be a more effective therapy than CBT, then its implementation should not be disruptive.




High-quality sleep makes people more resilient to anxiety and depression


Research from the University of York has found that quality sleep can help enhance resilience against depression and anxiety.


The study analysed data from more than 600 participants collected during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and aimed to investigate whether coping strategies could positively impact mental health outcomes, and if high-quality sleep could further strengthen these effects.


The results found that chronic stress is a significant risk factor for mental health disorders like depression and pathological anxiety.


However, the ability to engage in effective coping strategies – such as reframing situations to focus on the positive aspects – along with high-quality sleep, can help protect against poor mental health outcomes when faced with negative or stressful experiences.




‘Cheap’ ketamine can improve symptoms of treatment-resistant depression


A recent study conducted in Australia, has shown that inexpensive ketamine injections can be effective in treating severely depressed patients who have not responded to other treatments.


The study found that one in five patients achieved complete remission of symptoms after receiving twice-weekly injections for a month, while a third reported at least a 50% improvement in their symptoms.


The study was a double-blind trial, meaning neither the administrators nor the recipients of the injections knew whether they were receiving ketamine or a placebo.


Over the course of a month, 179 participants received two injections per week in a monitored clinic setting.


In a departure from previous studies, the placebo used in this trial was a mild sedative called midazolam, which aimed to improve treatment masking as participants who received it were less likely to guess they were in the control group based on the absence of side effects.


Currently, Australia uses an expensive form of ketamine, called S-ketamine, which costs £420 per dose for treatment-resistant depression.


In contrast, the generic ketamine used in the trial cost just £2.60 per dose.




Pet ownership does not aid in management of severe mental health issues


A recent survey conducted by the University of York has challenged the common belief that owning a pet can improve mental health and reduce feelings of loneliness for individuals with serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.


The study, which followed up on a previous survey conducted in 2021, found that living with an animal did not lead to improvements in well-being or provide reductions in depression, anxiety, or loneliness for individuals with serious mental illnesses, compared with those without pets.


The survey involved 170 participants in the UK with serious mental illnesses, of which 81 reported owning at least one animal.


The majority of participants owned dogs or cats, and most perceived a strong bond with their pets, reporting that their animals provided them with companionship, consistency, and a sense of being loved.


However, the study did not find any statistically significant improvements in mental health or feelings of loneliness among participants who owned animals, compared with those who did not.


The researchers noted that in the previous survey, which used the same group of participants, owning an animal was associated with a self-reported decline in mental health, potentially influenced by pandemic restrictions and the challenges of caring for pets during lockdowns.


While the study suggests that companion animals still play a significant role in the social network of individuals with severe mental illnesses, further research is needed to better understand the complexities of the relationship, such as how factors like the type of animal and external stressors may impact the effects of pet ownership on mental health in this population.




Hundreds of mental health projects left unfunded by Scottish Government


The Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund, supported by the Scottish Government and administered by Third Sector Interface (TSI), has approved 1,461 projects aimed at providing local support as of March 2023.


Despite the significant number of projects approved compared with past numbers, there is still a large backlog of applications, with 43% of the 2,585 applications received in 2022/23 remaining outstanding.


The fund was established in 2021 in response to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the goal of supporting mental health and wellbeing initiatives at the community level throughout Scotland.




Three-times more pharmacists accessing mental health support in the UK compared with two years ago


Pharmacist Support, an independent charity, has observed a "significant increase" in the demand for mental health counselling support and financial assistance among pharmacists across the UK.


According to its annual impact report, the charity provided 911 funded counselling sessions to 133 individuals in 2022, which is more than three times the number of sessions provided in 2021.


Additionally, 51 hours of peer support were offered to 31 individuals through the charity's 'Listening Friend' service.


The report also highlights that the charity awarded 44% more financial grants in 2022 compared with the previous year.


Pharmacist Support not only offers mental health counselling support but also provides financial assistance and other forms of support to pharmacists in need.


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