Mindfulness-Based Online Therapy Could Fill Gap in Depression Treatment

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Mindfulness-Based Online Therapy Could Fill Gap in Depression Treatment

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An online therapy program designed to reduce the lingering symptoms of depression, such as poor sleep and low energy, can offer additional benefits for patients receiving mental health care, according to a new study at the University of Toronto (U of T) Scarborough.

When added to regular depression treatment, Mindful Mood Balance (MMB), the online version of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), can help treat depression symptoms and keep them at bay.

MMB combines the practice of mindfulness meditation with the tools of cognitive therapy to teach patients adaptive ways of regulating their emotions.

“Treatments work well for many suffering from depression, but there remains a considerable group who continue to struggle with lingering symptoms such as sleep, energy or worry,” said U of T Scarborough Professor Zindel Segal, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the study.

Clinical data shows that without treatment, these patients face a significantly higher risk of becoming fully depressed again, notes Segal.

“Patients with these residual symptoms face a gap in care since they are not depressed enough to warrant re-treatment, but receive few resources for managing the symptom burden they still carry.”

The practice of mindfulness meditation helps patients observe rather than act automatically to any thought, feeling or sensation that comes to mind. This allows them to choose how best to respond, said Segal, one of the co-developers of MBCT.

“Our goal has always been for people to develop skills that they could continue to rely on once treatment had ended,” he said.

While research suggests that MBCT is as effective as antidepressant medication in preventing relapse, access remains limited and nearly impossible for those living outside large cities.

“What drove us to develop MMB is to improve access to this treatment. The online version uses the same content as the in-person sessions, except people can now avoid the barriers of cost, travel or wait times, and they can get the care they need efficiently and conveniently,” he says.

The results of the study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that adding MMB to depression care led to greater reductions in depressive and anxious symptoms, higher rates of remission and higher levels of quality of life compared to patients receiving conventional depression care alone.

“An online version of MBCT, when added with usual care, could be a real game changer because it can be offered to a wider group of patients for little cost,” said Segal.

Still, Segal said there is more work to be done. A common problem with online programs is that drop-out rates tend to be higher than in-person treatment. An important next step is looking at ways to keep people from quitting the program.

“The higher rates of dropout are somewhat offset by fact that you can reach many more people with online treatment,” he says. “But, there’s still room for improvement and we will be looking at our user metrics and outcomes for ways to make MMB more engaging and durable.”

Source: University of Toronto

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