New research suggests attention to depression symptoms can speed recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Care for depression is often minimized among those undergoing treatments for PTSD as individuals turn to family and friends to help them through it.
Unfortunately, familial advice often involves the admonition to “toughen up” or “just get over it,” an approach that can have a negative impact and lead to a transient increase in depression.
As reported in a Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology online article, the study is one of the first to demonstrate that depression symptoms can impact progress during PTSD treatment.
Researchers examined 84 PTSD patients treated only with medication, and another 116 involved in 10 therapy sessions designed to help them revisit their trauma and better cope with their fears.
Specifically, this study tracked sudden depression spikes or reductions in depression symptoms during PTSD treatment.
Also examined were how social support from family and friends impacted sudden depression changes and how those changes affected the overall treatment outcome.
Negative social support from family or friends (for example, blaming the victim) was associated with experiencing a worsening in depression symptoms for individuals receiving medication or therapy for PTSD, explained Stephanie Keller, a Case Western Reserve doctoral student and the study’s lead author.
Participants rated their depression symptoms (such as sadness, loss of interest in daily activities or hobbies, concentration problems, sleep or appetite issues, and suicidal thoughts) before starting each of the 10 treatment sessions, and finally at the end of treatment.
These survey scores allowed researchers to systematically track and analyze any changes in the depression levels.
Researchers found that patients experience ups and downs in depression whether treated only with medication or only therapy. Individuals who had rapid decreases in depression symptoms actually improved more during PTSD treatment than those who had gradual change, Keller said.
However, as transient depression symptoms worsened, it did not negatively impact treatment outcome. Overall, this study suggests that therapists should help PTSD patients to improve the quality of their social relationships, Keller said.
She also said for those patients who do have a temporary increase or worsening in their symptoms, clinicians may want to provide encouragement to stick with therapy and remind patients that a temporary spike in depression does not necessarily mean that they will benefit less from treatment.
Source: Case Western University