Psychologists have long been concerned that the lack of social support in women with depression may lead to serious physical health consequences, including cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Jill M. Cyranowski, Tara L. Hofkens, Holly A. Swartz, and Peter J. Gianaros, wanted to know if these women were at greater risk as well. “Individuals with depression have been shown to report less supportive social networks, more negative social interactions, and greater levels of marital strain than their non-depressed counterparts,” said the team. They recruited 38 women ranging in age from 20 to 40 years old, half of whom met the criteria for depression. All of the women were given physical exams before they were enrolled in the study that was aimed at creating situations that would induce the release of oxytocin.
The women were all measured for heart rate and blood pressure before they were asked to complete two tasks. The first task required the women to focus on a relationship that caused them to feel love or infatuation. The second task, commonly used to cause cardiovascular reactivity, was a speech task in which the women were given two minutes to create a speech defending their innocence against fabricated charges of shoplifting. Throughout the tasks, the blood pressure and heart rate of the women were monitored and recorded. The findings revealed that the non-depressed women exhibited less stress in the speech task after they had imagined a close relationship. “In contrast, women with depression who first thought about a close relationship displayed elevated blood pressure over the course of a subsequent stress task,” said the researchers. They concluded, “This novel finding may reflect heightened levels of social distress commonly reported among women with depression, and highlights the potential importance of social factors as modulators of cardiovascular risk factors in depressed women.”
Cyranowski, Jill M., Tara L. Hofkens, Holly A. Swartz, and Peter J. Gianaros. “Thinking about a Close Relationship Differentially Impacts Cardiovascular Stress Responses among Depressed and Nondepressed Women.” Health Psychology 30.3 (May 2011): 276-84. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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