The group intervention approach is a new and unique research protocol that has not been introduced or delivered anywhere else in the world, says Flinders University Psychiatry Professor Julio Licinio, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s (SAHMRI) Mind and Brain Theme research leader.
“Depression and obesity are major health burdens in Australia, with many people struggling with both depression and being overweight,” Professor Licinio says.
“Around 60 per cent of Australian adults are overweight or obese, and around one million Australians are living with depression this year – that’s about 6 per cent of the population.
“There are multiple treatment options available, however, most do not target the many physical, psychological and social links between these two health problems at the same time.”
The new group program is for people who are both obese and have depression, and aims to improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing, and to establish healthy, lifelong habits that support a happier, more active, meaningful life.
Participating in the group program will involve attending a two-hour group session each week for 10 weeks, with each session focusing on new topics and strategies. It will also involve attending some additional appointments at SAHMRI for the purposes of assessment and follow-up.
In developing the program, SAHMRI’s Mind and Brain Theme has hand-picked strategies from several evidence-based psychological treatment approaches to help people understand themselves better, learn more about health in general, develop realistic healthy eating and exercise habits, manage stress effectively, improve self-confidence and body image, and recover from depression.
Taryn Lores, health psychologist at SAHMRI’s Mind and Brain Theme, says many people struggle with both their weight and with a mental illness like depression.
“People think, ‘Once I lose weight, I will feel better, right?’, however this doesn’t always eventuate, and a vicious cycle often ensues,” she says.
“There are many complex mechanisms going on behind the scenes that need to be addressed if we want to truly recover from depression and be at ease with our bodies. We hope that the program we have developed will be an opportunity for people to do just that.”
Dr Mike Musker, Mind and Brain senior research fellow, says depression and obesity are closely connected.
“A big part of losing weight and maintaining it, is not just thinking about the food you eat, but also how you feel about yourself,” Dr Musker says.
As well, Professor Licinio says people with major depression may also experience either a loss or a large increase in appetite.
“This can be caused by increased anxiety, a low mood, a way of gaining comfort, or even side effects to frequently prescribed antidepressants,” he says.
“Weight gain can bring about a sense of worthlessness and loss of control, leading to a cycle of dieting and a sense of failure.
“We have created a program of psychological interventions that tackle both the feelings that surround food and weight loss, whilst exploring the impact of depression in this process.
“The program includes a series of educative strategies that respond to this complex combination of issues, with the intention of increasing the success and understanding of sustained weight loss over time.”
The SAHMRI trials will start from the middle of this year. If you are interested in participating or learning more about this research project, please register at mb.sahmri.com and one of the researchers will be in contact.
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