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Social goals in Behavioural Activation : Relationships between goal characteristics and depressive symptoms

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Title: Social goals in Behavioural Activation : Relationships between goal characteristics and depressive symptoms
Author(s): Kunnas, Jonatan
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master 's Programme in Social Research (SOSM)
Specialisation: Social Psychology
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2022
Depression is a common debilitating mental disorder. It is suffered by more than 320 million people globally and can involve symptoms such as loss of appetite and interest, frequent sadness, rumination, inactivity, and possible suicidal ideation. The World Health Organization has described the condition as the leading cause of global disability, a health crisis that causes significant human suffering and financial losses, both of which are avoidable through treatment. However, the causal relations of the condition are ambiguous as many of the symptoms have been found to be predispositions, comorbid, as well as causes of the disorder, which has led to a myriad of competing theories on the causes and treatment of depression. Focusing on the psychological theories of depression, these differences can not only be understood through historical debates, but also as fundamental contemporary questions relating to what mental health is and how an individual possibly evaluates subjective well-being (SWB). These are not definitive concepts, as presented in this paper, but a social psychological perspective can help the reader to create a more nuanced picture that assists in discerning the examined phenomenon. Despite the many uncertainties on what depression is and how best to treat it, the disorder has for the last four decades been most often diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder and successfully treated through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). However, this treatment has recently been gaining criticism for being too costly and unnecessarily complicated, in addition to showing evidence of selection and publication bias. One persuasive alternative to CBT is the cost-effective Behavioural Activation treatment (BA), a method that aims to behaviourally reactivate the patient through goals that are set in a handful of sessions, but as a relatively recent method, more research is needed on, among other things, the goal characteristics. There is potential that reactivating the social life among the depressed presents a more effective goal than other goals defined during treatment. As a functioning social life is emphasised by researchers on mental health and SWB, it could be that breaking the habit of social withdrawal is key for cost-effective depression treatment. The aim of this master’s thesis is therefore to present a wide array of research on mental health and depression, to situate BA to modern understandings of depression, and to argue for the potential in defining social goals in BA. This is investigated through multi-level modelling and linear regression analyses on survey data that was gathered in England from participants who were enrolled in BA as a part of their Low Intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for depression. The results were non-significant, indicating heterogenous data, extraneous variables, and mixed results – factors that are not entirely surprising given the variability relating to the syndrome and utilised methods. These are subsequently summarised in a conducive discussion held at the end of the paper along with a review of limitations and future research.
Keyword(s): Depression Behavioural Activation social goals multi-level modelling regression analysis

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