Up to 20 per cent of people who have heart attacks also have to deal with depression afterwards, and many never know. This is one of the links between the heart and mind being explored in an important new research project at Griffith University.

Dr Chris Stapelberg from the School of Applied Psychology needs 120 recruits for a 12-month study that could lead to a breakthrough in understanding both conditions and how they interact with each other.

“If you’ve had a heart attack, your risk of developing depression is about four times higher than it is for the general population. If you’ve suffered from depression, your risk of developing heart disease is at least doubled,” Dr Stapelberg, a consultant psychiatrist based on the Gold Coast, says.

“There are many physiological as well as psychological mechanisms linking the mind and heart.

“Both depression and coronary heart disease are very significant diseases. Depression is the leading cause of non-fatal disability in Australia and costs the community over $600 million each year.”

Cardiovascular disease is the largest cause of death in Australia. “It is estimated that one in five people admitted with coronary heart disease will have an associated episode of depression.

“That’s a lot of people every year on the Gold Coast, yet in many cases the depression is not recognised,” Dr Stapelberg says.

“If this research can help with the detection of depression, then that would be a significant step forward in its own right. It would also send a powerful message to people who have heart attacks about looking after their mental health too.”

Dr Stapelberg is investigating the effects of mood on heart rate variability in the first study to look at changes in mood and heart function over many follow-up intervals.

Four groups of 30 people will take part in the clinical trial. The first group will include people in good health who have not been diagnosed with depression and with no heart problems.

A second group will have been diagnosed with depression but will not have suffered a heart attack, while members of the third group will have had a heart attack but no experience of depression. The final group will have experienced both conditions.

In the case of those diagnosed with depression, Dr Stapelberg is seeking people who are currently not taking antidepressant medication.

“The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020 heart disease and depression will be the two most debilitating diseases in the world.”

Dr Stapelberg is running the research from the Lakeside Rooms practice in Robina in collaboration with Professor David Shum, Associate Professor David Neumann, Professor Harry McConnell and Professor Ian Hamilton-Craig from the Griffith Health Institute.

He is working closely with the cardiology department of the Gold Coast Hospital on the project and has started the recruitment process with the help of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Service and general practitioners on the Gold Coast.

Anyone interested in taking part in the research can contact 07 5562 0466 for further information.