Traditional Medicine: Making Room for Counseling

It is no real surprise that a diagnosis of heart disease or cancer may invite the hopelessness and helplessness associated with depression. But doctors treating major illnesses have not had the empirical evidence that might lead them to address depression as part of an ongoing treatment plan. Today there is increasing evidence that depression screening and treatment can benefit those facing long-term physical illness.

A new study from the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and the Ohio State University Department of Psychology suggests that counseling interventions for those facing new breast cancer diagnosis improves depression symptoms while also reducing blood inflammation, a cancer-promoting factor that has been shown to increase the likelihood of a patient’s death. It seems that psychological therapy reduces stress, improves a patient’s coping strategies, and eventually leads to a reduction in dangerous inflammation.

The study showed that 25-30 percent of cancer patients suffer from depression. The authors note that anxiety and depressive symptoms may be “trivialized” as a typical patient response to her circumstances. For the first time there has been a link between treating such psychological symptoms and the outcome of cancer treatment.

Just last year the American Heart Association recommended that all heart-disease sufferers undergo depression screening, despite a lack of evidence as to whether such screenings make a difference in the progression of heart disease itself. While rates of successive heart attacks and death have shown no reduction when patients are also treated for depression, patients do report less social isolation and lessened depressive symptoms. There is little argument as to whether therapeutic treatment has an impact on a depressed patient’s quality of life. With further studies and conversation about the mind-body connection, more physicians should consider referring patients for psychological services to augment a traditional treatment plan.