“It’s kind of a funny story”: A narrative intervention for depression

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, rates of depression have substantially increased, motivating research on more scalable treatments, such as narrative interventions. Although previous research has examined the impact of various narrative interventions on mental health and well-being, these studies neglected to identify the types of fictional narratives that depression-prone individuals gravitate toward and those that serve to alleviate or exacerbate symptoms. My dissertation experimentally manipulated different features of fictional narratives, testing the effect of protagonist type (depressed versus non-depressed) and resolution type (positive versus negative) on narrative preferences and depression symptoms. Consistent with research implicating negative and self-focused attentional biases as characteristic of depression, results demonstrated that individuals scoring higher on trait depression positively rated narratives depicting a depressed (rather than a non-depressed) protagonist by way of greater identification and development of a parasocial bond with the depressed protagonist. In line with self-discrepancy theories of depression, results also showed that those scoring higher on trait depression used higher rates of negative emotion language—specifically, words relating to sadness—in a reactionary response to a narrative about a non-depressed protagonist with a positive resolution (rather than in response to narratives about a non-depressed protagonist with a negative resolution or a depressed protagonist with either a positive or negative resolution). The present findings inform research on bibliotherapy and depression, offering empirical insights on the specific narrative formulas and the contributing mechanisms that exacerbate depressive symptomology.

narrative intervention, bibliotherapy, depression, language