My research project
Using sustained mindfulness training to change brain functioning in patients with persistent depression
Depression is a major contributor to the burden of disease world-wide and poses a considerable challenge for treatment. About a third of those affected develop a course in which the disorder tends to become increasingly chronic or recurrent. Research shows that in these cases, progressive changes in brain structure and functioning occur that undermine adaptive responses to stress and prevent recovery. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may be particularly promising in addressing such trajectories and reverse latent vulnerabilities. However, recent research suggests that effects of MBIs in depressed patients are contingent on sustained practice and it remains unclear at what stage of practice changes in underlying vulnerabilities may become visible. It is important to find ways of supporting patients in their practice beyond the standard duration of MBIs and align interventions with potential trajectories of change. To address these challenges, my project will 1) finalise the development of, and test, a blended MBI program combining digital components with therapist contact that supports patients in sustained practice and 2) use this intervention to map the trajectory of changes in relevant aspects of brain function and connectivity as patients continue to practise over a period of six months. The research will provide an initial step in the process of introducing a novel MBI to support patients in sustained practice and offer insights into the potential of sustained practice to reverse latent vulnerabilities. Results from this research will help to increase our understanding of how best to harness the potential of mindfulness training for these patients.