Heart disease and depression: Lebanese community study

Published 29 July 2008

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A research project launched this week in Sydney and Melbourne with funding from the NSW Health Corporation will investigate links between heart disease and depression within Australia’s Lebanese community.

The Lebanese community is the eighth largest migrant community in Australia, with major concentrations in Sydney and Melbourne. Dr Alan Avery from the University of New England is coordinating the research in Sydney, and Associate Professor Lina Shahwan-Akl from RMIT University is coordinating it in Melbourne.

“We expect that the findings will provide health care practitioners and organisations with valuable information about the relationship between heart disease and depression in this large migrant community, and highlight cultural sensitivities that can affect their diagnosis and treatment,” Dr Avery said. “We know from the scarce research data available that older Lebanese Australians have a high risk of developing heart disease. However, little is known about the relationship between heart disease and depression in this community, and the treatment and care provided.

“Studies suggest that the rate of migrants accessing mental health services in Australia is low. This is mainly due to cultural differences in the expression of psychological distress and differences in attitudes among ethnic communities to the stigma associated with mental illness. As part of our study, an established Australian Depression Scale (the Cardiac Depression Scale developed by Associate Professor David Hare from the University of Melbourne) will be trialled and validated in the Arabic language for the first time.”

Questionnaires (in either English or Arabic) will be distributed to about 100 Lebanese-Australian people who have experienced a heart problem in the past 12 months and who have reported an episode of depression or expressed a feeling of being depressed. Five to ten participants in each city will be invited to have individual face-to-face interviews about their personal experiences of heart disease and depression and the factors that hinder or help them in seeking appropriate health care.

“We’ll also be surveying GPs to learn about culturally-specific issues relating to access and referral to appropriate mental health and other services,” Dr Avery said. “We hope the project will identify health care service gaps and, on the other hand, areas where services are appropriate and recommended. This will have implications for best practice and service provision by the GPs, nurses, and other allied health professionals who deal with Lebanese Australians.”

Dr Avery and Dr Shahwan-Akl plan to present preliminary findings at an international conference in Dublin in November this year. In the longer term, they hope to extend their study to the broader Arabic community in both Australia and the Middle East.