Depression has been a worldwide problem. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression and when at its worst, can lead to suicide causing over 800,000 deaths every year.
Psychomotor disturbances, including slumped posture, are determinants of depression. Due to this, researchers from the University of Auckland led by Carissa Wilkes suggest that the mere modification of posture can actually improve depressed people’s outlook.
The team utilized 61 individuals, all of whom showed signs of depression in questionnaire responses. The participants were unknowingly assigned to one of two groups, Improved Posture (IP) and Usual Posture (UP.) Those in the IP group were asked to sit up straight during the tasks (some even had sturdy tape applied to their back and shoulders to help maintain the upright posture) while those in the UP group were allowed to sit any way they pleased. Individuals were then asked to do two activities known to evoke stress- First, they were asked to sit and give a five-minute speech that would later on be judged. Second, they were asked to try to count backwards from 1,022 by 13. Moreover, various questionnaires were also given to the individuals during various stages of the study.
Results of this provided evidence that upright posture can improve some aspects of affect. Specifically, the IP group had 1) greater high arousal positive affect, 2) lower fatigue, and 3) used words such as "I" and "me" less often. Conversely, the UP group used more affective process, negative emotions, anxiety, and anger indexed words.
Changing posture is a simple, highly acceptable and low-risk. However, more research is required to validate these findings, especially in clinical settings. Hence, posture improvement cannot necessarily be a strategy for treatment of people with depression but it pays to know that upright posture could have positive effects.
Carissa Wilkes et al, Upright posture improves affect and fatigue in people with depressive symptoms, Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
(2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.07.015