Education is the key to reducing depression in older Australians according to a study from The Australian National University.

The research, by Professor Helen Christensen and Dr Janine Walker from the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) contributes to the Beyond Ageing Project. The large randomised controlled trial examined the effectiveness of psychological and lifestyle approaches in preventing depression in older adults at risk. The study is being released in conjunction with Mental Health Week.

Conducted over two years with 900 participants, the study looked at the effectiveness of three non-drug based approaches; encouraging physical activity, folate and vitamin B12 supplements and reading about mental health and depression.

The results, published in the July 2010 British Journal of Psychiatry, indicated that the group who received the literature regarding depression had a reduction in depressive symptoms compared to the control group. The literature included information about what depression is, what works for treating depression, and where to go for help.

"The study suggests that mental health literacy interventions may have a role in lowering the risk for depression", said Dr Walker.

"That's good news because evidence-based written material about mental health is inexpensive to deliver, can be easily accessed, and its ability to prevent depression may be considerable if provided to large numbers of older people already experiencing some depressive symptoms."

"Unfortunately the physical activity intervention failed to get people to exercise more - highlighting the challenge of promoting increased activity in Australian adults."

Results of the folate and B12 supplementation have led to ongoing research with an increase detected in cognitive functions and improvements in long and short memory tests.

The findings indicate that inexpensive and accessible resources could be rolled out on a large scale to potentially promote mental health, and minimise the risk of worsening symptoms in older adults at risk.

The ANU CMHR provide a variety of community resources about depression and support networks - .The full research paper is available from the ANU media office.

Australian National University

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