Getting By with a Little Help from Friends

Peer support programs appear to be as effective as cognitive behavior therapy in treating depression

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Programs in which volunteers and patients share information about their depression symptoms appears to work as well as one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy.

The peer support system, according to a new study from the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and University of Michigan Health System, was shown to reduce depression symptoms better than traditional care alone. Researchers analyzed data from 10 randomized trials of peer support interventions for depression from 1987 until 2009 to arrive at their finding.

Lead study author Paul Pfeiffer, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and researcher at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, said the analysis -- the first to look at peer support for depression -- found the group approach to be as effective "as some of the more established treatments."

The interventions were found to decrease isolation, reduce stress, increase the sharing of health information and provide role models.

Dr. Pfeiffer said peer support is less likely to be incorporated into depression treatment than for other conditions such as alcohol and drug abuse.

More than one-third of major depression patients taking anti-depressants still experience symptoms after trying as many as four medications. Of those who achieve remission, more than half will relapse within one year.

Depression impacts an estimated 15 million adults in the United States. Depression is a state of prolonged low mood and aversion to activity. A person's thoughts, behavior, feelings and physical well-being are affected and may include feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt, irritability, or restlessness. The primary treatments for major depression are psychological counseling and medications. Medication therapies include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). SSRIs include: fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), sertraline (Zoloft®), citalopram (Celexa®) and escitalopram (Lexapro®). SNRIs include: duloxetine (Cymbalta®), venlafaxine (Effexor®) and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq®). Bupropion (Wellbutrin) is an NDRI. Atypical antidepressants include trazodone (Desyrel®) and mirtazapine (Remeron®). Each medication category has different side effects.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 16, 2011
Last Updated:
March 9, 2011