Kessler Foundation researchers have demonstrated the efficacy of a six-week interpersonal emotion regulation (IER) intervention for addressing the depression often experienced by individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS). The open access article, “Improving mental health in multiple sclerosis with an interpersonal emotion regulation intervention: A prospective randomized controlled trial,” was epublished in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

This study, which provides Class 1 evidence of IER’s efficacy in the MS population, is an important step in addressing psychological comorbidities. The authors are Katie Lancaster, PhD, Sarah J. Thomson, PhD, Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, and Helen M. Genova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation.

“Although most people are unfamiliar with the term ‘interpersonal emotion regulation,’ they are likely to use this strategy on a daily basis,” explained lead author Dr. Lancaster. “IER refers to the act of managing emotions by turning towards others. For example, if I’m upset, I could deal with that emotion independently by journaling or going for a run. Alternatively, I could use interpersonal strategies to improve my emotional state – e.g., venting to a loved one, asking for a hug, or distracting myself via a social event – some of the seemingly endless number of ways that we can manage emotions by leveraging our social connections.”

“Prior research has shown that these IER strategies are very powerful,” Dr. Lancaster added. “For instance, people who favor using IER strategies tend to be happier and have better physical health. And since these strategies are free and simple to use, we decided to design an intervention focused around using IER to improve mental health. We chose to test the intervention in people with MS.”

More than a third of people with MS have significant levels of depression and anxiety, which adversely affect daily life activities. These mental health issues tend to worsen over time, complicating the long-term treatment needed for this chronic neurological condition, according to Dr. Lancaster. “Given the scope of mental health issues in this population, researching effective interventions like IER that are low cost and accessible is a priority,” she said.

For the current study, the researchers randomly assigned a sample of individuals with MS to either the treatment or control groups. Participants in the treatment group worked with a trained interventionist to identify and implement personalized IER strategies over the course of six weeks. The control group met with the interventionist on the same schedule but did not modify the strategies that they typically used to regulate their emotions. Measured outcomes were depression, stress, quality of life, and self-reported social support. At follow up, depression levels had significantly decreased in the IER intervention group, while depression levels in the control group remained unchanged over the course of the study.

“Our results show that as a low cost, easily implemented intervention that can be tailored to the individual, IER can add an important dimension to conventional mental health therapies,” Dr. Lancaster summarized. “There are implications for other populations, as well. Because this IER intervention targets the basic mental process of emotion regulation, it has the potential to improve well-being in other conditions characterized by emotion dysregulation.”

[Source(s): Kessler Foundation, EurekAlert]