Dr. Louisa Sylvia Wins $8.7 Million PCORI Grant to Study Yoga as First-Line Depression Treatment

Louisa Sylvia, PhD, Associate Director at the DCBI and Lisa Uebelacker, PhD, Assistant Director of the Psychosocial Research Program at Butler Hospital, have been approved for an $8.7 million funding award by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to study the efficacy of Hatha Yoga in treating depression.

Over 19 million adults in the US suffer from a depressive illness every year. Scientific studies show that yoga can help depressed people to feel better, but it’s not clear whether it works as well as other treatments for depression. “We already know that yoga can help with depression,” said Dr. Sylvia. “But is it effective enough to be used as a first-line treatment? This study will help to answer that question.”

Hatha yoga, a blend of movement and meditative practice, is the most popular form of yoga in the US. Researchers Sylvia and Uebelacker will compare its effectiveness in decreasing depressive symptoms to behavioral activation, a psychotherapy that helps engage patients in meaningful activities and is used as a first-line treatment for depression in adults.

Importantly, the results of this study could provide critical evidence for health insurance payers to consider yoga programs among their covered treatments for depression.

For the six-month study, 518 adults with depression will be randomized into two groups. One will have behavioral activation therapy with a community therapist via video or telephone. The other group will participate in weekly, hour-long yoga classes that will be presented online in real time.

The researchers also want to find out whether certain types of people will do better in one or the other treatment, depending on characteristics like severity of depression, age, or personal preference. This information could help improve outcomes for all patients.

Drs. Sylvia and Uebelacker’s award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract.