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Heart health and depression

March 2016   


The link between mental health and heart health is substantial. People with depression are at a greater risk for developing heart disease, and depression after a heart attack or heart surgery is common, according to UW Medicine psychiatrist Mark Sullivan.

Help for heart patients with depression

Recognizing the importance of the mind-heart connection, UW Medicine psychiatrists have worked with providers at the UW Medicine Regional Heart Center for the past 10 years to provide effective mental healthcare for patients. The Regional Heart Center is a specialty cardiology clinic that treats people with a wide variety of heart diseases and heart care needs.

The center’s collaborative team refers patients who are experiencing mental health conditions to specialists for psychiatric consultation and short-term care, including psychotherapy and medication management. Conditions commonly treated include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and depression.

Sullivan said that heart disease and depression feed off each other, making it harder to treat when patients have both conditions. However, with the help of medication and cognitive behavior therapy, depression can be successfully treated.

Seeking treatment

“It is normal to feel depressed after a heart attack,” said Sullivan. “But 10 to 20 percent of patients stay depressed, which means they meet depression criteria over a period of two weeks.”

If a patient isn’t bouncing back mentally or physically a few weeks after a heart health issue, it’s a good idea to discuss it with their healthcare provider. Sullivan points out that it could be depression, but it could also be medical complications, so talking about the problem with a provider is important.

Preventing depression

“Protective treatments for depression are also protective against heart problems,” said Sullivan.

He suggested two important activities to keep both body and mind healthy:

  • Physical activity: Getting regular, sustained exercise is good for your mood and heart. It can be as simple as going for a 30-minute walk to achieve a health benefit.
  • Social activity: Connecting with friends and family, as well as other positive social interactions, helps maintain good emotional health and cognitive function. Engaging with people is important, too, so get off the computer and visit with loved ones, friends or join an activity group.

“There is no health without mental health, a truth that is even more evident in the care of patients with heart disease,” said Sullivan.

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