Writing in a depression journal may help people get their thoughts and feelings on paper. This practice can serve as a way for people to express themselves when feeling depressed.

While journaling is not a replacement for traditional treatment for depression, experts suggest that it may be an effective intervention.

This article explores the effects of journaling and how it may help those experiencing depression.

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A study published in Family Medicine and Community Health analyzed the efficacy of depression journaling. The results of the study showed that journaling lowered scores on mental health measures — where higher scores indicate more severe mental illness — by an average of 5%.

Journaling may have an impact on anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. According to the study, its impact on depression was slightly less than that on anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Further studies are necessary to confirm these data.

Learn more about depression.

What is journaling?

Journaling is the act of writing down, perhaps in a diary format, thoughts, feelings, and events that have happened. Writing in a depression journal is a low cost activity that may complement other treatments for depression. Writing in a depression journal also has few, if any, side effects.

While journaling may help the individual with their depressive thoughts, it can also help the treating physician. Documenting thoughts and feelings in a journal can help people be more aware of how their depression changes over time with treatment. This can help doctors intervene appropriately.

While journaling is a common method used in depression management, no guidelines exist on how to write in a depression journal. Researchers have not extensively studied the efficacy of journaling for depression. Information on depression journals comes from peoples’ anecdotal experiences.

According to researchers, journaling helps because it allows people to write their thoughts openly, without judgment, and honestly. Writing in a depression journal also requires trust and a feeling of security that no one else will read a person’s words.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers from the University of Connecticut and Brown University designed a project called the Pandemic Journaling Project. One of the objectives of the project was to evaluate the effectiveness of journaling throughout the pandemic, which had significant mental health impacts.

According to researchers, journaling may improve emotional and psychological health by:

  • helping connect thoughts, feelings, and actions
  • providing a way to process difficult moments in life
  • increasing self-awareness and self-understanding

Journaling may not replace traditional medication or psychotherapy for depression. However, it can be a powerful strategy when there is a lack of access to care.

With proper technique, writing in a depression journal is an intervention that may provide benefits when prescribed with other depression treatments.

The two most common forms of journaling for depression include expressive writing and gratitude journaling. Following the instructions for journaling is essential for benefiting from this tool. Journaling effectively to improve mental health may require coaching, training, and guidance.

However, evidence on the proper technique for journaling is lacking. Many different instructions for each tool exist, with little research on their effectiveness.

Depression journaling may include a variety of writing interventions, and it could involve the use of voices or images rather than written words. Journaling may benefit a person in other areas of communication, such as group therapy sessions or one-on-one interventions.

Ways of journaling

  • Expressive writing: With expressive writing, people will write for three or four sessions of about 20 minutes each. They will write about their deepest thoughts and feelings.
  • Gratitude writing: A gratitude journal involves writing about the positive aspects of life and things that a person is thankful for.
  • Brain dump: A brain dump involves writing how a person is feeling. Some people do this for 10 minutes per day. It could involve recording the intense emotions or feelings that may be overwhelming a person. However, there are no studies on the efficacy of these specific techniques or the correct procedure.
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Treatments for depression include medications, psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and neurological interventions. Writing in a depression journal may be a valuable addition to more traditional treatment.

Some medications for depression include:

The most appropriate treatment depends on several factors. Doctors consider factors such as the severity of the condition and the person’s wishes when selecting treatments for depression. An individualized approach that involves the person’s input can improve treatment success rates.

More studies are necessary to confirm the effectiveness of writing in a depression journal. Further study is also needed to determine the exact instructions for writing in a depression journal.

For optimal results, experts suggest following journaling instructions carefully. Depression journaling is a low cost and safe intervention to complement other treatments for depression.