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New research shows that even a very simple intervention, administered by non-specialists with just 15 hours of training, can effectively treat depression during COVID-19.

Close-up woman playing acoustic guitar.

Depression often involves a vicious cycle of low mood and low activity, which is difficult to break due to low energy, low motivation and anhedonia. In - behavioural activation - the intervention used in this study, participants are guided to reconnect with meaningful activities by taking small, measurable steps - for example, just 10 minutes of guitar playing twice a week. They are instructed to do their activity goals before they feel motivated and they have regular supportive meetings with the practitioner to celebrate successes and to solve any problems.

Tereza Ruzickova, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, said:

 

'Gradually, by increasing meaningful activities, mood tends to improve as a consequence. This study shows that non-specialist practitioners of this intervention can be trained very quickly to help treat the rising incidence of depression during a societal crisis period.' 

Between May and October 2020, 68 participants with low mood were randomised either to 4 weeks of non-specialist behavioural activation (carried out through video calls) or to a passive control group. The intervention led to a significant decrease in depression, which persisted at one-month follow-up, as well as leading participants to perceive facial expressions more positively. 

To read the full study, Online behavioural activation during the COVID-19 pandemic decreases depression and negative affective bias.

This study was funded by a Medical Research Council scholarship to TR and supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre. 

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