An Intervention to Prevent Anxiety and Depression

Ounce of prevention, pound of cure, all that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could treat psychiatric disorders by preventing them?

Recently, an international team of researchers did a test run of an intervention designed to do exactly that. In their study, they conducted both an internet version and an in-person group version of an intervention intended to prevent anxiety and depression.

The intervention aimed to nip anxiety and depression in the bud by targeting repetitive negative thinking, a thought pattern associated with these disorders. For the intervention, researchers recruited people with high levels of worry and rumination – in other words, people who had a tendency to repeatedly think about negative aspects of past, present and future situations.

Over the course of six weeks, participants in the study underwent training intended to help them cope with these negative thoughts. The researchers then followed up with participants three months and twelve months later.

As intended, the training helped people dial back their worry and rumination. Even better, the participants were still experiencing less repetitive negative thinking a year later.

Most interesting, though, was that the training lowered participants’ risk of developing either anxiety or depression over the ensuing year.

At the one-year followup, 15.3 percent of the in-person intervention group and 14.7 percent of the online intervention group had developed depression – compared with 32.4 percent of the waitlist group (who didn’t participate in the intervention).

Similarly, 18 percent of the in-person intervention group and 16 percent of the internet intervention group had develop generalized anxiety disorder while 42.2 percent of the waitlist group had.

These numbers suggest that training people to cope with recurring negative thoughts may be a powerful way of warding off anxiety and depression. More generally, it appears that relatively short preventative interventions may have the potential to lower people’s risk for psychiatric disorders, indicating that when it comes to mental health, a little prevention can go a long way.

Image: Flickr/Freddie Peña under CC BY-NC 2.0