Be kind, compassionate 'to get out of depression'

Be kind, compassionate 'to get out of depression'

Depression affects over 100 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

Although antidepressants can be lifesaving for some individuals, initial drug therapy produces full benefits in only 30 per cent to 40 per cent of patients. Even after trying different drugs, one-third of people will remain depressed.

Now, researchers from the University of California and Duke University claim that practicing positive activities like acts of kindness can serve as an effective, low-cost treatment for people suffering from depression.

According to them, the new approach for treating depression -- Positive Activity Interventions (PAI) -- are intentional activities such as performing acts of kindness, and practicing optimism.

For their study, the researchers conducted a rigorous review of previous studies of PAIs, including randomised, controlled interventions with thousands of normal men and women as well as functional MRI scans in people with depressive symptoms.

"Over the last several decades, social psychology studies of flourishing individuals who are happy, optimistic and grateful have produced a lot of new information about the benefits of positive activity interventions on mood and well being," lead researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky said.

However, such findings have not yet entered mainstream psychiatric practice, say the researchers.

"Very few psychiatrists collaborate with social scientists and no one in my field ever reads the journals where most happiness studies have been published. It was eye-opening for me as a psychopharmacologist to read this literature," co-researcher Murali Doraiswamy said.

The researchers' review of brain imaging studies also led them to theorise that PAIs may act to boost the dampened reward or pleasure circuit mechanisms and reverse apathy -- a key benefit that does not usually arise from treatment with medication alone.

"The positive activities themselves aren't really new. After all, humans have been counting their blessings, dreaming optimistically, writing thank you notes, and doing acts of kindness for thousands of years. What's new is the scientific rigour that researchers have applied to measuring benefits and understanding why they work," they say.

The findings are to appear in an upcoming edition of the 'Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine'.

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