The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shared that although many people with depression see improvement in their symptoms after taking antidepressant medication or participating in psychotherapy, some still experience lingering symptoms. While these low- to moderate-level symptoms may continue to have a negative impact on people’s lives, many are not provided with resources to help them manage these residual symptoms of depression, suggesting a need for new interventions.
NIMH has been working to meet this need by testing whether an online mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy—called Mindful Mood Balance (MMB)—is effective at reducing residual depressive symptoms and at reducing suicidal ideation in those who experience these lingering symptoms.
The MMB intervention consists of eight online self-administered sessions that teach people how to disengage from automatic, problematic cognitive patterns (such as ruminative thoughts). People using the MMB intervention also have limited access (average 2–3 hours total) to a coach who provides motivation and technical support over the phone.
NIMH has supported several studies testing the effectiveness of MMB for treating residual depressive symptoms (RDS) and preventing depression relapse, and for testing the effectiveness of this intervention for those with RDS who also experience suicidal ideation. Ongoing research is currently expanding the use of this intervention, testing to see if it is effective at treating women with perinatal depression.
Treating Residual Depressive Symptoms
In 2020, researchers led by Zindel Segal, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto Scarborough, published the results of a study that tested the effectiveness of MMB for treating people with residual depressive symptoms. Participants in the study included 460 Kaiser Permanente Colorado patients who were 18 or older and had experienced at least one episode of major depressive disorder and were currently experiencing residual depressive symptoms. Participants were randomly assigned to receive usual depression care and online MMB intervention or usual depression care alone.
The researchers found that patients randomly assigned to receive MMB in addition to usual depression care experienced greater reductions in residual depressive symptoms and anxiety and improved mental functioning than patients receiving usual depression care alone. Patients receiving MMB were also more likely to experience depression remission and had lower rates of depression relapse than those receiving usual care alone.