Could a popular psychological treatment for depression also help people with bipolar disorder?

We’re supporting Associate Professor Katie Douglas, who is also a registered clinical psychologist, at the University of Otago, Christchurch with a $101,777 grant to investigate a new treatment option.

Called Behavioural Activation Therapy, the treatment is commonly used to help people experiencing depression, but new research overseas suggests it could be just as effective in treating bipolar disorder.  

The condition affects nearly 2% of all Kiwis, but rates are double for Māori, says Katie.  

“Unfortunately, most people with bipolar disorder cannot access psychological therapy in Canterbury, or throughout New Zealand. Medication can help, but having a qualified therapist to support patients is critical for long-term recovery.”  

A/Prof Douglas says getting access to specialist mental health services can be challenging, and those who are accepted for treatment usually don’t get the help they need long-term.  

“It’s really disheartening because what we know about bipolar disorder is that it’s a lifelong condition. It’s chronic and it’s relapsing so there does need to be long-term psychological input for these people, so they know how to manage their condition.”  

Twenty people with bipolar disorder will be recruited to take part in the two-year project. They’ll receive therapy over a period of six months, with assessments carried out before and after to determine the trial’s success.  

The therapy will be adapted to incorporate Māori models of health, says Katie.  

“Ensuring the treatment is culturally responsive is key, especially given rate of Māori affected by bipolar disorder is disproportionally higher than the rest of the community.” 

The past 10 years, Katie has been awarded 9 research grants as Principal Investigator. Over the same time period, she has been a named co-investigator on 9 funded research projects. Katie has extensive experience in clinical trial methodology and is currently involved in several clinical trials.

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