Preventing Depression Relapse
Therapy Better Than Antidepressants at Heading Off New Bout Triggered by Sadness
July 5, 2006 -- Mild sadness may trigger relapse into major depression, a
Canadian study shows.
But this is more likely to happen in patients treated with antidepressants
than in those who receive a form of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral
therapy, or CBT.
Relapse is a risk for people who have recovered from major depression. One
reason for relapse is that a person may still have thought patterns that can
trigger a downward spiral of depressive thinking, suggest University of Toronto
researcher Zindel V. Segal, PhD, and colleagues.
A tip-off to whether formerly depressed people have these risky thought
patterns is how mild sadness affects their thinking. So Segal's team studied 99
people who had recovered from an episode of major depression. Forty of them
recovered after treatment with antidepressants (either Zoloft, Paxil, or
Effexor); 59 recovered after CBT.
The researchers gave the recovered patients a test that measured their
dysfunctional attitudes. Then they had them listen to sad music -- 10 minutes
of Prokofiev's "Russia Under the Mongolian Yoke" re-mastered at half
speed -- while remembering a time in their lives when they felt sad.
Those whose thinking became most dysfunctional during this exercise were
also most likely to relapse over the next 18 months. This "cognitive
reactivity" was a stronger predictor of depression relapse than the
strongest previously known predictor (the number of prior relapses).
Mild sadness was more likely to trigger dysfunctional thinking in
antidepressant-treated patients than in those who recovered from depression
The finding points to new ways to prevent depression relapse, Segal and
colleagues suggest. The idea would be to teach patients to recognize -- and
change -- dysfunctional thoughts that arise when they're sad or stressed.
"Effective relapse prevention might be achieved through approaches that
... uncouple the mood-dependent accessibility of these beliefs and attitudes
...," they write.
Segal and colleagues report their findings in the July issue of the
Archives of General Psychiatry.