Mindfulness and prevention of depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most prevalent and debilitating affective disorders and a leading cause of disability worldwide. Much of the burden of depression is a consequence of MDD tending to take a recurrent course. Hence optimizing preventative treatments for recurrence of depression is a high priority within the field of mental field. 

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an effective treatment for prevention of relapse risk amongst individuals with a history of recurrent MDD. MBCT is recommended in the Danish National Health guidelines and by the National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence (NICE) as preventative treatment for recurrent depression. However, only about half experience sustained remission following MBCT. To improve clinical outcomes, we need to identify early markers to speak to which individuals will demonstrate long-term benefit from treatment and identify key therapeutic mechanisms of change. 

PhD student and psychologist Anne Maj van der Velden is adressing the question of mechanisms and predictive markers in a interdisciplinary project funded by the Institute for Clinical Medicine, Aase og Ejnar Danielsens Foundation and a Mind & Life Varela Award. The project measures putative neural mechanisms, biomarkers and psychological mechanisms in MBCT treatment of recurrent MDD, and predictive markers of treatment response. Anne Maj van der Velden is affiliated with Interacting Minds Center (IMC), Danish Mindfulness Center, Center for Functionally Integrative Neurosciences at Aarhus University and Oxford Mindfulness Centre at Oxford University. She receives supervision from Prof. Andreas Roepstorff (IMC, AU), Prof. Willem Kuyken (Oxford Mindfulness Centre, Oxford University), and Associate Professor Lone Fjorback (Danish Mindfulness Center, AU). 


The project involves international and interdisciplinary collaboration between the fields of Clinical Psychology (Oxford Mindfulness Center; Professor Willem Kuyken and Catherine Crane and the Danish Mindfulness Center; Ass. Professor Lone Fjorback), Genetics (VIA Aarhus, Jesper Dalsgaard), Mind-Wandering (York University, Ass. Professor Jonathan Smallwood), and Neural Mechanisms (Dr Jacqueline Scholl and Professor Catherine Harmer, Oxford University and Dr Gaelle Desbordes, Harvard Medical School).

Compassion for informal caregivers

Ph.D. Project: Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) for informal caregivers of people who suffer from a mental illness.

In Denmark, there are approximately 1.6 million people, who consider themselves to be an informal caregiver of someone who suffers from a mental illness. Of those, approximately 10% provide care for their loved one while also taking care of their children and maintaining a job. International research has found that informal caregivers have a 25-50% increased risk of developing stress, depression and/or anxiety due to their caregiving work.

Project Aim

The aim of the Ph.D. project is to investigate whether an 8-week course in Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) can reduce psychological distress in informal caregivers thereby decreasing the risk of developing stress, depression and/or anxiety

Results from other CCT studies

Based on previous international studies conducted on the CCT program we know that systematic compassion training:

Increases our daily dosis of positive emotions

Increase our empathy for our self and others

Increase emotion regulations skills, fx acceptance of difficult emotions/thoughts

Decreases suppression of emotions

Increase resilience and attention

Decrease worry, mind-wandering and negative emotions

Decrease stress, depression and anxiety


Psychologist and certified compassion teacher Nanja Holland Hansen is conducting this research 

Read more about Compassion here.

Developing app for assisting course members in their daily practice

In Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), home practice of mindfulness is as an integral part of the program. A recent analysis has shown that there is a relationship between the amount of home practice people report completing and benefit from the course (Parsons et al., 2017),


My project at the Danish Centre for Mindfulness examines how technology can be used to support people in completing their home practice. Together with researchers at the School of Engineering (AU, Associate Professor Kasper Jensen) and Human-Computer Interaction (UCC, Ireland, Dr. Conor Linehan), we are testing a newly-designed smartphone app to support mindfulness course participants.


I am also interested in how mindfulness interventions work, looking at their effects on emotion, behaviour and the brain (e.g., Young et al., 2017).


Relevant publications:


Parsons, C. E., Crane, C., Parsons, L. J., Fjorback, L. O., & Kuyken, W. (2017). Home practice in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: A systematic review and meta-analysis of participants' mindfulness practice and its association with outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 95, 29-41. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2017.05.004


Young, K. S., van der Velden, A. M., Craske, M. G., Pallesen, K. J., Fjorback, L., Roepstorff, A., & Parsons, C. E. The impact of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on brain activity: a systematic review of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.