Social Support Combats Depression in Heart Attack Survivors
April 24, 2000 -- Friendship and love are the subjects of many songs and
poems, but they may do more than entertain us. New research shows that strong
social support from friends and loved ones may help heart attack survivors beat
the depression that commonly occurs in the year following a heart attack.
Previous research has shown that heart attack patients who are depressed are
about three times more likely to die than their non-depressed counterparts,
lead study author Nancy Frasure-Smith, PhD, writes in Circulation: Journal
of the American Heart Association. Frasure-Smith is associate professor of
psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal.
In the study of almost 900 people who suffered a heart attack, about 32%
were diagnosed with mild to moderate depression in the week following their
heart attack. During one year of follow-up, almost 8% of depressed participants
died of heart disease, compared with just under 3% of the patients who were not
depressed, Frasure-Smith and colleagues report. However, those depressed heart
attack survivors who reported high levels of social support from friends and
families were more likely to overcome their depression, they write.
"Those people with social support in their everyday lives -- a sort of
psychotherapy of everyday life -- were more likely to overcome their
depression," she says. "This gives us hope that interventions including
better use of available support may be useful for depressed heart attack
survivors," Frasure-Smith, also a senior research associate at the Montreal
Heart Institute, tells WebMD.
Heart attack survivors should be encouraged to maintain social contact, she
says. "If they withdraw from friends and family members, this is a warning
sign of depression, and if it doesn't get better within one month, seek
help," she says.
Robert Carney, PhD, a professor of medical psychology at the Washington
University School of Medicine in St. Louis, agrees.
"Patients with depression especially after a heart attack are at a
significantly increased risk of [death] or second [heart attack]," he says
in an interview with WebMD. "This has been consistent across studies.
Depression in heart attack patients is important to identify and
Common signs of depression in heart disease patients include sadness,
difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping, loss of appetite, and significant
weight loss, he adds.
"The most important thing is to identify it to the person and discuss it
with them and then bring it to a physician's attention," he says. "A
lot of patients tend to misattribute depressive symptoms to their
For example, "a patient may say, 'I just had a heart attack so of course
I am sad,' and this is one of the things that makes it difficult to
diagnose," Carney tells WebMD.
- Heart attack patients who are depressed are more likely to die or suffer a
repeat heart attack than patients who are not depressed.
- In a new study, researchers found that high levels of social support from
friends and loved ones helped patients overcome their depression, improving
- Depression among heart attack patients may be difficult to identify and
treat, but common symptoms include sadness, difficulty concentrating, problems
sleeping, loss of appetite, and significant weight loss.