Let's be frank: death pretty much sucks. I do not want to die, and I am pretty sure you do not either. And when someone we love dies, well, tragic does not do the pain justice. But quite interestingly (if I do say so myself), some colleagues and I just found that writing about death for minutes a day for one week can reduce depression.

Before I go on, let me make it clear what I am not saying.

*I am in no way endorsing using writing about death over time as a means of treating clinical depression* All of our participants were college students, and most were women. Further, none scored at a clinically depressed level when the study began.  Basically, I have no idea what would happen if clinically depressed people were the participants, and research hasn't tested that. But it is very possible that it could actually make things much worse.

For this study, 133 participants were told they would have to write about a topic each day for approximately 5 minutes a day, or to just reply to an email we sent them. In truth, they were randomly divided into 3 groups. One-third of them would be writing about death for six days, one-third would be writing about uncertainty and one-third would just be replying to our emails. Then, on the 7th day, they were all again randomly assigned (unknowingly to them) to write about death or uncertainty.

Basically, participants who wrote about death repeatedly (for the six days) had the least level of depression on day 7. This effect occured because repeatedly writing about death also shifted people's motivations from such things as fame and wealth, to such things as personal growth and family. (in psychology/stats jargon, the effect of repeated death writing on reduced depression was mediated by the increase in intrinsic motivation)

Interestingly though, there was also an effect that one time writing about death had the opposite effect; participants who did not write about death for six days, who were reminded of death on day 7 had the highest levels of depressive symptoms.

In sum, writing about death over and over altered what people found important to them, and this made them less depressed. But at any given time, writing about death causes an increase in depression, most likely that is short term.

(note: depression was measured using only the items/symptoms on the Beck Depression Inventory that have been found to relate most solely to depression. So items such, as "reduced sexual desire" and "reduced energy" were not included).

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