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A Pilot, Randomized Controlled Study of Tai Chi With Passive and Active Controls in the Treatment of Depressed Chinese Americans

J Clin Psychiatry 2017;78(5):e522–e528

Objective: This pilot, randomized clinical trial investigates the effectiveness of tai chi as the primary treatment for Chinese Americans with major depressive disorder (MDD).

Methods: 67 Chinese Americans with DSM-IV MDD and no treatment for depression were recruited between March 2012 and April 2013 and randomized (1:1:1) into a tai chi intervention, an education program, or a waitlisted group for 12 weeks. The primary outcome measure was the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS17); positive response for this outcome was defined as a decrease in total score of 50% or more, and remission was defined as HDRS17 7.

Results: Participants (N = 67) were 72% female with a mean age of 54 ± 13 years. No serious adverse events were reported. After the end of the 12-week intervention, response rates were 25%, 21%, and 56%, and remission rates were 10%, 21%, and 50% for the waitlisted, education, and tai chi intervention groups, respectively. The tai chi group showed improved treatment response when compared to both the waitlisted group (odds ratio [OR] = 2.11; 95% CI, 1.01–4.46) and to the education group (OR = 8.90; 95% CI, 1.17–67.70). Tai chi intervention showed significantly improved remission rate over the waitlisted group (OR = 3.01; 95% CI, 1.25–7.10), and a trend of improved remission compared to the education group (OR = 4.40; 95% CI, 0.78–24.17).

Conclusions: As the primary treatment, tai chi improved treatment outcomes for Chinese Americans with MDD over both passive and active control groups.

Trial Registration: identifier: NCT01619631