A pioneering study is using mindfulness to ease depression and anxiety – in a bid to help people affected by stroke.
The Heads: Up study at Glasgow Caledonian University will run for nine weeks, using techniques including meditation, visualisation and gentle physical movement to help alleviate mood disorders – common after stroke.
Developed by Dr Maggie Lawrence, the practical programme is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness based stress reduction method, created by the American mindfulness teacher in the 1980s.
It is widely used across the NHS including in the treatment of eating disorders and multiple sclerosis.
Up to 50 per cent of people who have suffered strokes live with compromised mental health five years after.
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Dr Lawrence, who has a background in neurological rehabilitation, said: “There’s very little support when someone’s had a stroke.
“They might be in hospital for a few days and then have a few weeks of follow up with outpatient rehab but after that [they are] left to their own devices.
“Part of the problem is that medical services are geared up to what is physically obvious so if you have an invisible disability such as problems with cognition, or depression and anxiety there’s really very little help.”
Heads: Up aims to change that by arming stroke patients with a toolkit to help them identify and manage ongoing mental health difficulties.
“Stroke survivors are not getting the support they need”
The 14 stroke patients will be joined by a partner, friend or carer in the study, which starts at the end of October, with all learning the techniques to support their own mental health and encourage each other to practice the programme.
Dr Lawrence said: “Quite often relationships break down because there are multiple problems following a stroke but people often don’t understand what the issues are so they don’t know how to tackle them.
“If people get into the habit of doing the mindfulness exercises when they find themselves in stressful situations or getting low, they are able to automatically draw on their new skills.”
The £365,000 three-year project is funded by the Stroke Association, which estimates that more than 120,000 people live with the effects of stroke in Scotland.
Around 13,000 people suffer a stroke every year, and some 4,000 die.
Last year the Stroke Association said that survivors’ best chances of recovery were being put at “significant risk” due to lack of information on the availability of rehabilitation.
Richard Francis, head of research awards at the Stroke Association said: “We know stroke survivors face a battle with depression and anxiety, yet they are not getting the support they need to have a good quality of life.
“Mindfulness is already well recognised as having a positive impact over many people with anxiety issues.
“We hope this project will tell us more about how we can better support those battling with anxiety and depression after stroke.”