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U of R researchers seeing results from a new online self-help tool to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: September 17, 2020 8:00 a.m.

More than 300 people have engaged with the program, completing some or all of the modules. Response has been overwhelmingly positive.
More than 300 people have engaged with the program, completing some or all of the modules. Response has been overwhelmingly positive. Photo: Pixabay.com

The intellectual, emotional, physical, and social challenges associated with life-changing events such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, may have long-lasting effects on people, such as increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety, and heightening levels of perceived stress.
 
Therapy can certainly help, but not everyone has easy access to counselling or psychological supports. The solution may lie in online self-help and intervention tools which offer greater opportunities to expanded access to care.
 
A team of University of Regina researchers has developed a four-module, remotely-delivered mindfulness program designed to reduce mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety, and moderate levels of perceived stress. And it’s being offered for free.
 
The program has been running since late 2018 and was recently featured in the November 2020 issue of Behaviour Research and Therapy, in an article titled “Examining the effectiveness of an online program to cultivate mindfulness and self-compassion skills (Mind-OP): Randomized controlled trial on Amazon's Mechanical Turk.
 
“The demand for effective psychological treatments for depression, anxiety, and heightened stress is far outstripping their supply,” writes Dr. Shadi Beshai, a University of Regina associate professor of psychology and lead researcher in the project. “Accordingly, internet-delivered, self-help interventions offer hope to many people, as they can be easily accessed and at a fraction of the price of face-to-face options.”
 
The new self-help program and intervention, known as Mind-OP, is designed to be delivered at a pace of onemodule per week. The first two modules are focused on mindfulness, and reduce symptoms of anxiety by enabling participants to experience their present moment with purpose, acceptance and attentiveness. The last two modules emphasize self-compassion; being aware of one’s own suffering, and having the desire and motivation to alleviate the suffering.
 
More than 300 people have engaged with the program, completing some or all of the modules. Response has been overwhelmingly positive.
 
“Two different times in different weeks, I started feeling super stressed and I stopped and did the Mind-Op meditation. It really helped me to calm down and think differently about my situation,” says one of the participants. “I like how the program is teaching me about meditation to calm myself down from tough days at work. I learn about self-kindness and self-empathy.”
 
"It has educated me quite a bit about what mindfulness is and most importantly for me is that it provided me with the knowledge and skills to start becoming mindful,” says another participant. “I'm also very surprised that learning the breathing exercise has made such a strong impression on me that when I become upset or anxious my mind immediately goes to that thought of just paying attention to my inhaling and exhaling for a few moments.”
 
“Considering what all of us are currently going through now, especially relating to COVID-19, there is no better time to engage with a program like Mind-OP,” says Dr. Beshai. “This course is completely free and the only requirements are for the participant to be available for at least 30-to45 minutes per week for a total of four weeks; have access to a computer with Internet; and complete the four modules.”
 
“Within each module, there are questionnaires to assess how well the program is working, psychoeducational videos, and guided meditation sessions.”
 
The course can be taken by anyone. Although the modules are brief, people experience the greatest mental health rewards when they practice the meditations several times.
 
Anyone interested in participating can contact the Depression Cognition and Culture (DCC) Lab at dcc.lab@uregina.ca, or Dr. Shadi Beshai, shadi.beshai@uregina.ca.

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