U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — Group therapy helps improve the quality of life of people with multiple sclerosis, who often have trouble coping with depression along with physical aspects of the condition.
“These are very encouraging findings as many people with MS have problems with depression and anxiety and there are few treatments provided in NHS clinical services to address these,” says Nadina Lincoln, professor at the University of Nottingham.
“It is important that the psychological effects of MS are fully recognized as they can have a devastating effect on people’s lives.”
MS affects about 100,000 people in the UK. A new study, published online in the journal Multiple Sclerosis finds offering group therapy could save the National Health Service almost £500 per patient.
Previous studies have suggested that depression in MS can lead to patients failing to take their medication and a reduced quality of life. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines also recognize that many people with both MS and depression or anxiety would prefer not to take antidepressants and recommends that psychological therapies should be offered as an alternative.
For the study, MS patients completed questionnaires about how MS affects their daily lives and the extent to which they felt in control.
The patients were then randomly divided into two groups of just over 70 people. One group received all the usual care offered to MS and were put on a waiting list to receive group therapy at the end of the study.
The other group were invited to attend a course of six two-hour sessions of group therapy attended by up to eight participants at a time. Each session was led by a research psychologist, supervised by a qualified clinical psychologist with experience of working with people with MS.
Sessions focused on specific topics, including worry, gloom, and relationships and was followed by practical exercises in strategies to cope with emotional problems and group discussion, finishing with relaxation exercises. Group members were given tasks centered on practicing coping strategies between sessions.
To assess the effectiveness of the sessions, questionnaires were sent to the participants four and eight months later and the results of those who received treatment were compared to those on the waiting list only.
MS sufferers who attended the group sessions had fewer problems with anxiety and depression, the impact of the disease on their daily lives was reduced, and quality of life improved.
Researchers also found costs were reduced by £470 per patient for those who attended the therapy sessions compared with usual care. It was shown to almost halve the cost of visits to the GP, falling from £11,340 at the start of the study to £5,832 at the eight month follow up. The costs of outpatient hospital visits were also reduced from £32,592 at the beginning of the study to £21,534 at the eight-month follow-up.
The next stage of the research will be to assess whether the group therapy approach works equally well in other centers through a larger study.
“Knowing group-based sessions can reduce anxiety and depression is a strong development towards improving the quality of peoples’ lives with MS,” says Susan Kohlhass of the MS Society.
“We are committed to funding work that will imminently benefit people with the condition and this is a great example. The next stage will be to find if this approach is as effective in other areas of the country.”
More news from University of Nottingham: http://communications.nottingham.ac.uk/News.html