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Peer Support Beats Usual Care for Depression, Analysis Finds
Date:2/18/2011

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 behavior.

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.

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