Try a little tenderness: Groundbreaking research underway to battle depression

By Dale Johnson Posted: July 20, 2018 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Shadi Beshai, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, is researching the impact of self-compassion on depression.
Dr. Shadi Beshai, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, is researching the impact of self-compassion on depression. Photo: U of R Photography

Depression is one of today’s most pressing health issues, and a University of Regina Psychology Assistant Professor is doing research to see if one way to reduce depression may come from self-compassion.

“People who are currently living with depression, or who have suffered from an episode in the past, are often very self-critical. Self-compassion is defined as being moved by your own suffering, and having the desire to alleviate that suffering for yourself,” explains Dr. Shadi Beshai.

“The intervention we will be using is specifically designed to increase people’s capacity to be self-compassionate, and this is predicted to make it less likely for people to relapse into additional full-blown episodes of depression.”

Beshai, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, has been awarded a grant of $117,539 from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation to conduct his work. The money for the three-year research project will be used mostly to hire and train graduate student researchers, compensate participants, and create a website for the study.

“Our intervention will target people who have had at least one depressive episode in the past and who are also showing signs – for example, elevated depression symptoms that are not yet a full-blown episode – that they might relapse soon if we don’t intervene. We believe that people in this position would especially benefit from self-compassion interventions,” Beshai says.

Beshai says he’s excited to undertake this, because research into self-compassion is “budding.”

“All the evidence we have currently shows that self-compassion is likely a powerful ‘antidote’ to psychological distress. People who are higher on self-compassion typically have significantly lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. If our prediction pans out – and there is strong evidence to support that it will – self-compassion may also be a powerful ‘antidote’ against future depressive episodes.”

This research builds on Beshai’s work in the areas of mindfulness meditation and self-compassion practice, both of which have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, he says there are no studies that have examined whether these approaches can prevent future episodes of depression.

“As depression is a highly recurrent condition – people who have one episode go on to develop, on average, five episodes in a lifetime – and since the recurrent depression treatments we have are only moderately effective, this study will pave the way for a new approach to preventing depression for people who are at risk. I am incredibly excited and optimistic about this work, as it could pave the way for changes in the way we treat people who are at risk for recurrent depression,” he says.

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