Rebecca Girlinghouse, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern
With February being American Heart Month, it made me wonder what kind of link there may be between the heart and mental health. The answer: a really big one! There is actually an entire subsection of psychology called Cardiac Psychology dedicated to understanding the link between the heart and mental health as well as to finding treatments to reduce the risk of heart disease. The field of Cardiac Psychology got it’s start back in 1959 and has grown to become the largest empirically validated specialty in health psychology (Allan, Pace, & Dorri, 2018).
Research has found that there are several psychological and social risk factors linked to heart disease and poor treatment outcomes including depression, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and social isolation (Allen et al., 2018). Another large area of research for Cardiac Psychology regarding risk factors is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In fact, some research has shown that individuals with PTSD are more than twice as likely to experience cardiac related hospitalization than those who do not have the disorder (Ginsberg, Pietrabissa, Manzoni, & Castelnuovo, 2015). On the other side, optimism is a huge factor in protection against heart disease, and several psychological interventions have been shown to decrease the risk for heart problems (Allen et al, 2015).
The intervention found to be most effective in reducing further cardiac problems is support groups for cardiac patients. Individual psychotherapy focused on the reduction and management of anger, stress, and depression is also beneficial (Allen et al., 2018). However, the field is still growing and there is a call for research exploring the effectiveness of specific types of psychology-based interventions such as various approaches to psychotherapy, psychoeducation, community-based interventions, biofeedback, etc. (Ginsberg et al., 2015). This is truly an exciting time to be in the field of Cardiac Psychology as it continues to expand and grow. Additionally, given the increasing body of literature linking mental and physiological health, the important role of psychology in keeping not just our minds, but our bodies, healthy has never been so clear.
Allen, R., Pace, T., & Dorri, Y. (2018). Behavioral Cardiology/Cardiac Psychology: Translating research into practice. Journal of Integrative Cardiology, 4(6), 1-3.
Ginsberg, J., Pietrabissa, G., Manzoni, G., & Castelnuovo, G. (2015). Treating the mind to improve the heart: The summon to cardiac psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4523709/pdf/fpsyg-06-01101.pdf