Online Mindfulness-Based Therapy May Keep Depression at Bay

An online mindfulness program may help to bolster the effect of psychotherapy for those suffering from depression, a new study finds.

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Many of us will experience depression in our lifetimes. Although many treatments like cognitive behavior therapy and antidepressant medications are found to be effective for some, many others may still feel residual symptoms of depression (RSDs) after treatment is over and not everyone has access to a trained therapist.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines the tools of cognitive therapy with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) skills to teach individuals how to better regulate their emotions. Previous studies have found MBCT to be as effective as antidepressant medication in preventing depressive relapse. To date, however, access to the program has been limited largely to those living in large cities. Mindful Mood Balance (MMB) was created to fill the access gap by delivering MBCT online. 

Web-based delivery of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may be an accessible, cost-effective means of preventing relapse, and may provide more people with access to MBCT.

To see whether MMB would enhance the impact of conventional depression treatment, researchers randomly assigned 460 adults who had experienced at least one major depressive episode to receive either conventional depression treatment consisting of individual or group therapy, or conventional treatment supplemented with MMB.  

MMB was delivered in eight self-administered online sessions over 12 weeks. The program focused on teaching people how to detach from their habitual thoughts to prevent them from spiraling into depressive rumination, which can lead to relapse. Each session combined mindfulness practice with video-based learning and information. Study participants also received email and phone coaching and technical support. Members of both groups completed questionnaires about their depression and anxiety symptoms before and during treatment, then again one year later.

Mindful Mood Balance Lessens Depressive Symptoms

After twelve weeks of treatment, adults in the MBB group reported significant reductions in their symptoms of depression compared to those who received conventional treatment. In addition, a greater percentage of MBB participants who experienced remission after therapy maintained these gains twelve months later. MBB participants also reported less anxiety, more depression-free days, and better overall function than those who only received conventional therapy.

Despite these promising results, the study also revealed that the online delivery format didn’t work for everyone. Participation rates were lower than expected, with the MBB group completing an average of 4.8 of 8 sessions. Of the 230 MBB participants, 63 completed all eight of the sessions, another 144 completed four or more, and 86 completed fewer than four sessions. 

This suggests that web-based delivery of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may be an accessible, cost-effective means of preventing relapse, and may provide more people with access to MBCT. We still have more to learn about why some people engage with the online format while others do not.

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  • B Grace Bullock PhD
  • March 5, 2020