People who are experiencing depression have more trouble self-regulating as well as exerting control over their own thoughts and actions. It’s possible, then, that honing peoples self-control could reduce their depressive symptoms.
That idea was the starting point for a recent study that looked at the effects of a self-control training program in college students with depression. The study involved 74 students, who were split into two groups of 37 people each – one which participated in the self-control training and one which didn’t. The self-control training took place over the course of six months.
Comparing the program participants to the non-participants, the researchers found that the program did what it was designed to do: it improved people’s self-control.
More interestingly, though, it also improved people’s depressive symptoms. The group that had participated in the training program scored better than the group that hadn’t on both self-control and depressive symptoms when they were tested at the end of the study. And those who had attended more training sessions experienced greater improvements in depressive symptoms.
It did make a difference how severe people’s depression was when they started the program. Those with milder depressive symptoms were more likely to experience improvement in their symptoms following the training program. This suggests that self-control training could be especially helpful for those with mild or moderate depressive symptoms, as opposed to those with more severe depression.
One thing the authors of the study note is that since the research was done on college students, it’s less clear how the findings would generalize for people who aren’t young or well educated.
Still, the results show that programs designed to help people improve their self-control could help lessen depressive symptoms, especially for people with mild or moderate depression. These findings have the potential to lead to new interventions for simultaneously treating depression and helping people hone their self-control.