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Education the silver bullet

Study shows information is a powerful weapon in combating depression among the elderly.

Education is the key to reducing depression in older Australians, according to a new study from The Australian National University.

Professor Helen Christensen and Dr Janine Walker from the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) conducted a large randomised controlled trial to examine the effectiveness of psychological and lifestyle approaches in preventing depression in older adults at risk.

Conducted over two years with 900 participants, the study looked at the effectiveness of three non-drug based approaches: encouraging physical activity, folate and vitamin B12 supplements, and reading about mental health and depression.

The results, published in the July edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed the group who received the literature regarding depression had a reduction in depressive symptoms compared to the control group. The literature included information about what depression is, what works for treating depression and where to go for help.

“The study suggests that mental health literacy interventions may have a role in lowering the risk for depression,” said Walker.

“That’s good news because evidence-based written material about mental health is inexpensive to deliver, can be easily accessed, and its ability to prevent depression may be considerable if provided to large numbers of older people already experiencing some depressive symptoms.”

Unfortunately, the physical activity intervention failed to get people to exercise more – highlighting the challenge of promoting increased activity in Australian adults, Walker said.

Results of the folate and B12 supplementation have led to ongoing research with an increase detected in cognitive functions and improvements in long and short memory tests.

The findings indicate that inexpensive and accessible resources could be rolled out on a large scale to potentially promote mental health, and minimise the risk of worsening symptoms in older adults at risk.

The ANU CMHR provides a variety of community resources about depression and support networks. Go to www.cmhr.anu.edu.au

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