New group program to help address depression and obesity simultaneously

24 May 2017
New group program to help address depression and obesity simultaneously

The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI’s) Lifelong Health Theme is trialling a novel approach to tackle both depression and being overweight together in a group intervention – a completely new and unique research protocol that has not been introduced or delivered anywhere else in Australia or around the world. 

Depression and obesity: major health burdens in Australia

Many people struggle with both depression and being overweight. 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.  

This new group program seeks to help people address both depression and being overweight. The main aim of the program is for people to improve both their physical and mental health and wellbeing, and to establish healthy, lifelong habits that support a happier, more active, meaningful life.  

About the program

In developing the program, SAHMRI’s Mind and Brain theme has hand-picked strategies from several evidence-based psychological treatment approaches to assist people in understanding 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.  

Participating in the group program will involve attending a two-hour group session each week for ten weeks, with each session focusing on new topics and strategies. Participation will also involve attending some additional appointments at SAHMRI for the purposes of assessment and follow-up.

Ms Taryn Lores, Health Psychologist within the Mind and Brain theme said that so 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. 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,” Ms Lores said.

Dr Mike Musker, Senior Research Fellow, Mind and Brain theme added that 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 said.

Professor Julio Licinio, Mind and Brain Theme Leader and Professor of Psychiatry at Flinders University, said that with major depression, people 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. Weight gain can bring about a sense of worthlessness and loss of control, leading to a cycle of dieting and a sense of failure,” Professor Licinio said.

“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.”

Get involved

This new group protocol will be trialled at SAHMRI from the middle of this year and we are currently seeking volunteers. If you are interested in participating or learning more about this research project, please get in touch.