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Online Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Improves Residual Depressive Symptoms

February 11, 2020

Patients with residual depressive symptoms who received online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) plus usual care demonstrated significant gains in depression and functional outcomes, compared with patients who received usual care only. Researchers published their findings in JAMA Psychiatry. 

“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 study lead author Zindel Segal, PhD, a professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough in Ontario, Canada.

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

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The study looked at the effectiveness of the web-based Mindful Mood Balance application in 460 adults with residual depressive symptoms. Half were randomized to receive, in addition to usual care, 8 sessions of MBCT online over 3 months with minimal phone or email coaching support. The other half of participants received usual care only.

Participants who received the online therapy had significantly greater drops in residual depressive symptoms than participants who received usual care only, researchers reported. In the online therapy group, a significantly greater proportion of patients achieved remission, and rates of depression relapse were substantially lower, compared with the usual-care-only group.

According to the study, the intervention group also had more depression-free days, decreased anxiety, and improved mental functioning, compared with the usual-care-only group. 

Developed by Dr. Segal and colleagues, MBCT blends mindfulness meditation with cognitive therapy to teach patients emotional regulation techniques.

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

—Jolynn Tumolo


Segal ZV, Dimidjian S, Beck A, et al. Outcomes of online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for patients with residual depressive symptoms: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 January 29;[Epub ahead of print].

Campbell D. New online therapy for lingering depression symptoms could fill 'gap in care,' U of T researcher says [press release]. Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto; January 29, 2020.

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