Study looking at new ways to help treat depression in middle-aged and older Australians

A study by the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) and University of Melbourne is looking at new ways to provide support for middle-aged and older Australians experiencing depressive symptoms.


The RECOVER-D research study offers innovative psychological and medical treatment for people aged 50-75 years of age who are experiencing moderate depression.

The RMH  study lead Professor Nicola Lautenschlager, head of the Melbourne Medical School, said participating in the study could present an interesting opportunity for Australians who may be seeking support for their mental health symptoms.

“Australians who experience moderate common mental health symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, can sometimes find it challenging to access suitable interventions and services – and are sometimes referred to as the ‘missing middle’,” Professor Lautenschlager said.

Professor Lautenschlager said moderate depression can impact a person’s quality of life.

“Moderate depression can present like someone struggling at work, or perhaps losing interest in their hobbies or daily activities or feeling disconnected and lacking enjoyment in their lives.”

Participants in the study will undergo eight sessions of psychosocial training over 11 weeks, delivered online by a trained researcher. This is combined with medical online meetings with a study psychiatrist, who prescribes a modern antidepressant medication shown to also support cognitive health.

Professor Lautenschlager said the online sessions made the intervention more accessible, and the new treatment focused on psychosocial training.

“Psychosocial functioning relates to a person’s ability to perform daily tasks and participate in gratifying relationships – and previous research suggests long-term outcomes of depression may be influenced by psychosocial functioning,” Professor Lautenschlager said.

“Older adults can be particularly at risk of reduced psychosocial functioning and therefore those who suffer from depression may be particularly vulnerable to poor long-term outcomes.”

Dr Terence Chong, Senior Research Fellow in Psychiatry of Old Age and one of the study psychiatrists, said that older Australians can also experience what is often referred to as “double discrimination”.

“This is the extremely unfair discrimination that can occur due to ageist attitudes – added to discrimination due to a person having a mental health condition – and becomes ‘double discrimination’ in this age-group, which means we need to advocate strongly for the people that we work with,” Dr Chong said.

“There is some stigma towards older generations related to mental health, but this has been gradually reducing over time – with help from campaigns such as those by Beyond Blue, and more open dialogue in the community and the media about mental health.”

Dr Chong said older generations have generally been brought up to not talk about mental health.

“That means they often present to doctors with physical symptoms such as tiredness, pain, headaches and nausea – which are seen as more ‘socially acceptable’,” Dr Chong said.

“However, there are still people who do not seek any help at all due to stigma, and they may be suffering in silence.”

For more information, contact the RECOVER-D study team on (03) 8344 1879.

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Danielle Galvin