Peer Support Offers Promise for Reducing Depression Symptoms
offers promise as an effective, low-cost tool for fighting depression,
a new study by the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and University of
Michigan Health System finds.
Programs in which patients and volunteers share
information were found to reduce symptoms of depression better than
traditional care alone and were about as effective as cognitive
behavioral therapy, researchers found after analyzing 10 randomized
trials of peer support interventions for depression dating from 1987 to
The analysis was the first of its kind to look at
peer support specifically for depression, says lead author Paul
Pfeiffer, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the
University of Michigan Medical School and researcher at the VA Ann
Arbor Healthcare System.
"Peer support is much less likely to be
incorporated into the treatment of depression than for other conditions
such as alcohol or substance abuse," Pfeiffer said. "Our study combined
data from small randomized trials and found peer support seems to be as
effective for treating depression as some of the more established
The findings were recently published in General Hospital Psychiatry.
Peer support has been found to decrease isolation,
reduce stress, increase the sharing of health information and provide
role models, the study points out.
Since peer support programs often use volunteers
and nonprofessionals -- and can be done over the phone or Internet as
well as in person -- they have the potential to be widely available at
relatively low cost, Pfeiffer says.
The need for additional coping options is
important when one considers that one third of patients taking
anti-depressants for major depressive disorder still experience
significant symptoms after trying four medicines, and more than half of
people who achieve remission of their symptoms relapse within a year,
"As a field, we should be looking at how to
integrate peer support components into primary care and specialty
treatment of depression," Pfeiffer said, noting that additional, larger
studies could also provide more insight.
This research was supported by VA Health Services
Research and Development Service, Michigan Diabetes Research and
Training Center and the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health
Additional U-M authors include Dr. Michele
Heisler; John D. Piette, Ph.D.; Mary A.M.Rogers, Ph.D.; Dr. Marcia
Valenstein. Heisler, Piette and Valenstein have VA appointments.
For more information on the University of Michigan Health System, visit www.med.umich.edu.