Friday, February 6, 2015

Wear Red Day: Promoting Healthy Hearts and Healthy Minds 

Erik R. Vanderlip, MD, MPH 

Researchers today are putting together what it means to truly have a “broken heart.” As we adorn our favorite red apparel for “National Wear Red Day” to raise awareness of the untold stories of millions of women experiencing strokes or heart attacks in our country, we must consider the contribution of poor mental health to this burden. 

Clinical depression has repeatedly been linked with accelerating the onset of heart attacks and strokes and severely complicating recovery. People with depression often lack the concentration and energy to effectively exercise, eat healthfully, and engage in rehabilitation to optimize recovery. Several studies 1,2 have suggested significant reductions in heart attacks and improved rehabilitation after stroke with proper depression treatment, yet these practices are not yet standard care. Proactively managing our moods and emotions should be granted the same time and effort as lowering our cholesterol, losing weight or dieting. From taking a daily aspirin to taking a walk, keeping tabs on our emotions and addressing them head-on should be an essential part of heart and brain health. 

There are a number of reasons this hasn’t caught on. Cardiologists and primary care physicians are happy to roll up their sleeves to manage cholesterol and lower blood pressure, but when it comes to emotions, many lack the training and expertise to feel confident in diagnosing mental illness, much less manage it. Mental illness is often seen as very subjective, making it challenging to measure or assess. 

Furthermore, mental illness is too often stigmatizing, and many people are embarrassed to admit they’re struggling to cope. Or they may feel as if the overwhelming hopelessness they’re feeling is a natural consequence of having a heart attack or stroke. While it may be common, we know it’s not healthy. Solid, effective treatments exist that we know can help improve our quality of life as well as, perhaps, extend longevity. 

We’re not scared to talk to our doctors about high blood pressure or aspirin, and we shouldn’t be scared to talk to them about our mood. It may be one of the only ways we can begin to mend our broken hearts. 

More information from the American Heart Association:

1. Jorge RE, Acion L, Moser D, Adams HP, Robinson RG. Escitalopram and enhancement of cognitive recovery following stroke. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(2):187-96. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.185.
2. Stewart JC, Perkins AJ, Callahan CM. Effect of Collaborative Care for Depression on Risk of Cardiovascular Events: Data From the IMPACT Randomized Controlled Trial. Psychosom Med. 2014;76(1):29-37. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000022.

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