Dialectical Behavior Therapy Shown to Lessen Depression in Older Adults

DBT Adult DepressionMost people have had “down” days where feelings of gloom and sadness sap the desire to get out of bed and face the day’s challenges. And while no one is immune to these feelings, most are able to move beyond them a in short period of time and carry on with fulfilling and productive lives.

However, those afflicted with depressive disorders are not able to so easily shake the feelings of sadness and lack of interest in life. To these people, depression is a persistent problem that can cause great suffering and an inability to function healthily at work, at school, and in their relationships. Untreated, severe cases of depression can lead to suicide.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 8% of the U.S. population over the age of 12 struggle with depression in any 2-week period. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies depression as the most common worldwide illness, estimating that over 300 million people are affected by the mental health disorder.

The staggering numbers continue to grow as more and more people of all ages and all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds battle with the increasingly difficult hardships of life. While no segment of the population is impervious to depression, research has shown that some groups are more susceptible to the disorder – and one of these high-risk groups is older adults.

Fortunately, with early detection, diagnosis, and a treatment plan consisting of medication, psychotherapy, exercise, and a healthy diet, a significant percentage of those who battle the harsh effects of depression can turn their lives around and experience happiness more consistently.

One such treatment option that has proven successful in working with depressed older adults is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). There is now encouraging research to indicate that in addition to medication management, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has been shown to offer an effective treatment approach for this segment of the population affected with some degree of depressive disorder.

In a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, DBT skills groups and coaching in crisis, along with medication management, resulted in significant decreases in depression among older adults. Approximately 70% of the study participants receiving DBT treatment were in remission at the end of the study, compared to 47% of those who did not receive DBT treatment. In addition, at a 6-month follow-up, 75% of the patients receiving DBT and medication were in remission, compared with just 31% of those receiving only medication, a dramatic difference that provides compelling evidence in support of DBT’s effectiveness when treating older adults suffering from depression.

The research findings concluded that only patients receiving the potent combination of DBT and medication showed significant improvements from pre- to post-treatment for depression. To note, the DBT used in the study concentrated on two of the five DBT treatment modalities: skills group and coaching. The goals of each modality are to teach patients new skills to manage their problems and emotions, and to enable them to confidently utilize those skills during difficult times.