Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Improves Cognitive Functioning and Flexibility Among Individuals with Elevated Depressive Symptoms

Abstract

Major depressive disorder is a prevalent psychiatric condition that affects cognitive functioning. Cognitive impairments associated with depression impact the treatment course and effectiveness, creating a need to target this aspect of depression directly. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be effective at preventing depressive relapse and reducing depressive symptoms, yet very little is known about its effects on cognitive impairments associated with depression. Therefore, the current study aimed to assess the effectiveness of MBCT on cognitive impairment in individuals with elevated symptoms of depression. Participants were assigned to an MBCT program (N = 22) or waitlist (N = 18). Participants completed diagnostic interviewing and self-report measures of depressive symptoms, overall cognitive functioning, and cognitive flexibility before and after the program. Participants who received MBCT had significantly improved cognitive flexibility and reduced cognitive deficits compared to those on the waitlist. In addition, improvement in cognitive deficits was significantly associated with depressive symptom improvement. These findings provide preliminary evidence that MBCT may be effective at improving cognitive impairment associated with elevated depressive symptoms.

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Funding

This work was supported by a research grant to the second author from AlterMed Research Foundation.

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BGS: helped design and execute the study, conducted data analysis, and wrote the paper. JG: obtained funding for the study, helped design and execute the study, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. DM, PP, and KM: helped with the execution of the study and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript. SWL: assisted in obtaining funding, designing the study, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Benjamin G. Shapero.

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All procedures were performed in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Massachusetts General Hospital and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Shapero, B.G., Greenberg, J., Mischoulon, D. et al. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Improves Cognitive Functioning and Flexibility Among Individuals with Elevated Depressive Symptoms. Mindfulness 9, 1457–1469 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-0889-0

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Cognitive flexibility