The benefits of mindfulness-enhanced expressive writing among depression-vulnerable individuals

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Baum, Emily Sylvain

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An impressive body of research indicates expressive writing (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986) produces physiological and psychological benefits. One study found that expressive writing decreases depressive symptoms among formerly depressed college students (Gortner, Rude, & Pennebaker, 2006). Gortner et al. (2006) argue that expressive writing may produce changes by reducing negative evaluations of emotional experiences and self-judgment, often associated with depression, through instructions encouraging participants to delve into their “deepest thoughts and feelings.” In other words, the standard writing instructions appear to send an implicit message that individuals be accepting and non-judgmental towards emotions and cognitions. The mindfulness literature suggests that making this message explicit may improve the preventative power of expressive writing in depression-vulnerable populations (Baer, 2003; Kingston, Dooley, Bates, Lawlor, & Malone, 2007; Teasdale et al., 2000; Toneatto & Nguyen, 2007). Therefore, the specific goal of the present study was to examine the effects of a mindfulness-enhanced expressive writing intervention among depression-prone individuals.

Depression-vulnerable participants (e.g., dysphoric or formerly depressed) were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Although writing instructions varied for each group, all participants wrote for 20 minutes across a three-day period. The mindfulness condition received writing instructions that encouraged participants to be non-judgmental, accepting, and self-compassionate as they wrote about distressing events. Participants in the traditional writing condition received standard writing instructions, which consisted of writing about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to an emotional incident. Finally, students in the control condition were instructed to write about what they did the previous day.

Results showed marginally significant decreases in depressive symptoms among participants in the mindfulness group compared to the control condition. In addition, results indicated that low suppressive depression-vulnerable individuals in the mindfulness condition marginally improved their cognitive processing biases compared to their counterparts in the traditional and control groups. Results failed to support hypotheses that predicted improvements on self-compassion, rumination, and mindfulness skills. Further, self-compassion was not found to mediate the effects of treatment on depressive symptoms and rumination. Obviously more research needs to be conducted, however preliminary results suggest that brief mindfulness interventions may be beneficial for a depression-vulnerable population.



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