FRIDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- A new analysis of existing
research finds that peer support may do a better job of treating
depression than standard care.
Depression is difficult to treat even with the help of
psychotherapy and antidepressant drugs. According to the analysis,
one-third of depressed patients have significant symptoms even
after being treated with four different medications. In addition,
among depressed people who recover while taking antidepressant
drugs, more than half relapse within a year.
The researchers looked at 14 studies involving depression and
peer support in their meta-analysis, which is a method that pools
the results of different studies examining a common problem so they
can be analyzed statistically. All of the studies had randomly
assigned depressed people to receive peer support with at least one
other person, or one of three other types of treatment including
standard care, cognitive behavioral therapy, or both. The studies
examined the experiences of 869 participants in total.
The researchers combined the results of the studies and reported
their findings online in advance of publication in an upcoming
print issue of the journal
General Hospital Psychiatry.
Dr. Paul Pfeiffer, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the
University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, and colleagues
found that support groups were "superior" to regular care but
didn't do significantly better or worse than cognitive behavioral
therapy, which trains people to develop new patterns of thought and
Why might support groups be so helpful? Pfeiffer's team
suggested that it may have something to do with their ability to
lessen isolation, provide a buffer against stressful events, help
patients share health information and offer role models. "Peer
support programs may also empower patients to play a more active
role in their own self-care," they wrote.
"Given the high level of functional burden imposed by depression worldwide, peer support for depression should also be studied as a potentially low-cost intervention in primary care or other settings where more established but costly depression services are unavailable," the authors concluded.
One expert who was not involved with the meta-analysis had some
criticisms of the findings.
Dr. Bernard Carroll, scientific director at the Pacific
Behavioral Research Foundation and past chairman of psychiatry at
Duke University, said that several of the studies in the review
were weak, and the stronger ones showed the treatment approaches
were just about equally effective. In addition, some of the studies
focused on people with mild symptoms, he noted.
But peer support might still have its uses in depression
treatment, he noted.
Overall, Carroll said, the review suggested that peer support
"may be somewhat helpful" -- with caveats -- in certain people
without severe symptoms of depression.
For more about depression, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.