An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: the benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder

J Affect Disord. 2013 Sep 25;150(3):1148-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.065. Epub 2013 Jun 18.


Background: The benefits of expressive writing have been well documented among several populations, but particularly among those who report feelings of dysphoria. It is not known, however, if those diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) would also benefit from expressive writing.

Methods: Forty people diagnosed with current MDD by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV participated in the study. On day 1 of testing, participants completed a series of questionnaires and cognitive tasks. Participants were then randomly assigned to either an expressive writing condition in which they wrote for 20 min over three consecutive days about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding an emotional event (n=20), or to a control condition (n=20) in which they wrote about non-emotional daily events each day. On day 5 of testing, participants completed another series of questionnaires and cognitive measures. These measures were repeated again 4 weeks later.

Results: People diagnosed with MDD in the expressive writing condition showed significant decreases in depression scores (Beck Depression Inventory and Patient Health Questionnaire-9 scores) immediately after the experimental manipulation (Day 5). These benefits persisted at the 4-week follow-up.

Limitations: Self-selected sample.

Conclusions: This is the first study to demonstrate the efficacy of expressive writing among people formally diagnosed with current MDD. These data suggest that expressive writing may be a useful supplement to existing interventions for depression.

Keywords: Expressive writing; Intervention; Major depressive disorder; Written emotional disclosure.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Art Therapy / methods*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Human Activities / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thinking
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Writing*