People who exhibit mild depressive symptoms are at increased risk for clinical depression. Addressing these symptoms early is a key factor in preventing the onset of major depressive disorder. Individuals with moderate symptoms often don’t seek help because they do not realize the severity of their condition and because they are worried about the stigma associated with mental health problems. Therefore, the most effective early interventions focus on removing the stigma attached to mental illness and encouraging individuals to work on decreasing the psychological stress that negatively impacts mental health. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is one such therapy approach that teaches clients how to cope with depressive symptoms, view themselves in a positive light, and helps them overcome the stigma associated with depression and other mood issues. To get a better idea of how effective ACT is, Martine Fledderus of the the University of Twente’s Department of Psychology, Health and Technology in The Netherlands conducted a study assessing ACT in depressed individuals.
For her study, Fledderus evaluated 250 participants who had symptoms of mild to moderate depression. The participants were enrolled in ACT with follow-up email support that was either extensive (ACT-E) or minimal (ACT-M). Another group of126 participants was waitlisted (W-L). After the therapy, Fledderus reassessed the participants and found that 39% of the ACT-M and 34% of the ACT-E participants saw significant reductions in symptoms compared to those participants in the W-L group. Additionally, Fledderus discovered that the reductions were maintained 3 months later. The participants who saw reductions in symptoms also reported less fatigue and anxiety immediately following treatment and throughout the 3 months after ACT. Fledderus believes that these findings, which support other research demonstrating the effectiveness of ACT, emphasize the importance of addressing mild to moderate symptoms of depression in individuals who might otherwise avoid treatment. She added, “Offering an early intervention in a positive frame and as a self-help program might be less stigmatizing for participants than the traditional mental health services.”
Fledderus, M., Bohlmeijer, E. T., Pieterse, M. E., Schreurs, K. M. G. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy as guided self-help for psychological distress and positive mental health: a randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 42.3, 485-495.
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