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Mood Regulation May Be New Target for Treating Depression

A new study suggests that supporting natural mood regulation may be a new target for treating and reducing depression.

Healthy mood regulation involves choosing activities that help settle one’s mood. However, in situations where personal choices of activities are constrained such as during periods of social isolation and quarantine this natural mood regulation is impaired which can lead to depression in some people.

Researchers from the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford say the current COVID-19 lockdown is likely to exacerbate problems with mood regulation. They propose that helping people regulate their moods may be a new target for alleviating depression.

“By training people to increase their own mood homeostasis, how someone naturally regulates their mood via their choices of activities, we might be able to prevent or better treat depression,” said Maxime Taquet, Academic Foundation Doctor at the University of Oxford.

“This is likely to be important at times of lockdown and social isolation when people are more vulnerable to depression and when choices of activities appear restricted. Our research findings open the door to new opportunities for developing and optimising treatments for depression and this could potentially be well adapted to treatments in the form of smartphone apps, made available to a large population which sometimes lack access to existing treatments.”

For the study, the research team evaluated 58,328 participants from low, middle and high income countries, comparing people with low mood or a history of depression with those of high mood. In a series of analyses, the researchers looked at how people regulate their mood through their choice of everyday activities.

In the general population, there was a strong link between how people currently feel and what activities they choose to do next. This mechanism — mood homeostasis, the ability to stabilize mood through activities — is impaired in people with low mood and may even be absent in those who have been diagnosed with depression.

Importantly, some links between activities and mood were highly culture-specific. For example, exercise led to the greatest mood increase in high income countries, while religion did so in low and middle income countries. Interventions aimed at improving mood regulation will need to be culture specific, or even individual specific, as well as account for people’s constraints and preferences.

“When we are down we tend to choose to do things that cheer us up and when we are up we may take on activities that will tend to bring us down,” said Guy Goodwin, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.

“However, in our current situation with COVID-19, lockdowns and social isolation our choice of activity is very limited. Our research shows this normal mood regulation is impaired in people with depression, providing a new, direct target for further research and development of new treatments to help people with depression.”

One in five people will develop major depression at some point in their life. The current lockdown strategies used by different countries to control the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to cause even more depression.

About 50% of people do not see their symptoms improve significantly with an antidepressant and the same applies to psychological treatments. A key priority for mental health research is therefore to develop new treatments or optimize existing ones for depression.

Using computer simulations, the study showed that low mood homeostasis predicts more frequent and longer depressive episodes. Research suggests that by monitoring mood in real time, intelligent systems could make activity recommendations to increase mood regulation, and such an intervention could be delivered remotely, improving access to treatment for patients for whom face-to-face care is unavailable, including low and middle income populations.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Source: University of Oxford

Mood Regulation May Be New Target for Treating Depression

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2020). Mood Regulation May Be New Target for Treating Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Apr 2020 (Originally: 23 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Apr 2020
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