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Mater researcher and Betty McGrath Fellow Dr Tatjana Ewais has received a further $40 000 in funding to progress a unique research project into mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for young people living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and depression.
The grant was awarded by Brain Injured Children’s Aftercare Recovery Endeavours (BICARE)—a joint initiative of Mater Young Adult Health Centre Brisbane, Mater Research, Queensland Brain Institute and Mater Foundation Brisbane.
IBD is an umbrella term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, including conditions such as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease—affecting more than 75 000 Australians each year.*
The grant will help to recruit and monitor a cohort of IBD patients from Mater Young Adult Health Centre Brisbane who subsequently suffer from depression and anxiety.
Leading the project, Dr Ewais said research into IBD patients—specific to their mental health—was relatively new and more work was required to consider both the physical and emotional impacts the disease had on patients.
“Depression is three times more common for patients with IBD, with the peak onset of IBD being 15 to 29 years of age. There is a pressing need for research into treatments addressing both depression and IBD in this cohort,” she said.
“IBD and depression share an underlying common risk factor; inflammation. In the gut this can lead to IBD and in the central nervous system it can lead to depression.
“Research has shown that depression can trigger IBD flares and vice versa, therefore leading to a vicious cycle.
“On the positive side, however, treating one condition can lead to improvement in both and a significant improvement in the quality of life of those suffering from IBD and depression.
“IBD is debilitating and when chronic, it affects a young person’s life significantly. Patients struggle to work and study and it impacts their relationships and family life,” she said.
A multi- disciplinary team has been established involving psychiatry, gastroenterology, IBD nursing and allied health, to see how mindfulness can improve a patient’s state of depression, their IBD symptoms and overall health and wellbeing.
The project involves patients attending a weekly two-hour session for eight weeks to learn mindfulness and cognitive therapy techniques and they are expected to undertake 40 minutes of these exercises at home each day.
Before and after the eight-week program, patients undergo psychological and laboratory testing and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in order to determine if there have been any changes to their mood and other mental health parameters, as well as inflammation and brain neuro-connectivity.
Dr Ewais said while it was too early to report on the project’s findings, patient responses to the mindfulness sessions were positive.
“The anecdotal evidence from those participating has been very promising.
“Patients have reported to be less depressed and they are learning a lot of strategies to switch off their ‘driven mode’ and switch on their ‘being present mode’ which lowers the impact of depression and anxiety and improves their resilience.
“Often patients relapse, so these strategies help them to deal with the turmoil that comes from the chronic symptoms caused by IBD,” she said.
Dr Ewais said the team was thankful to BICARE for its commitment to the project which allowed for it to get off the ground and continue recruiting more patients into the study.