Mindfulness-Based Therapy Could be as Effective as Medication for Depression
Research suggests that a mindfulness-based therapy could offer those with recurrent depression as much help as antidepressant drugs. The therapy could be the right treatment choice for those who have problems with long-term use of antidepressants.
An Alternative to Drugs
“Currently, maintenance antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse, reducing the likelihood of relapse or recurrence by up to two-thirds when taken correctly,” says Professor Richard Byng, of the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry. “However, there are many people who – for a number of different reasons – are unable to keep on a course of medication for depression. Moreover, many people do not wish to remain on medication for indefinite periods, or cannot tolerate its side effects.”
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a method of treatment which can help to prevent relapses in those with depression, without the side effects of drugs. It involves meditation techniques which train people to focus on the present, recognise the early warning signs of depression and respond to them constructively, in ways which do not trigger further reoccurrences. It helps people to understand that they have the ability to prevent themselves from going into a downward spiral.
A Comparative Study
In a study of 424 adults with recurrent major depression, participants were split at random into two groups – one which remained on antidepressants, and one which was taken off the drugs and given MBCT instead. The latter group attended eight group sessions, which lasted two and a quarter hours each, and were given daily home practice. Afterwards, they had the option of attending four follow-up sessions over a period of 12 months. Meanwhile, the other group continued to take their antidepressant medication for two years.
Over the course of this two-year period, all participants were assessed at regular intervals, using a psychiatric diagnostic interview tool. Overall, the relapse rates were 44% in the MBCT group compared to 47% in the medication group, suggesting that the mindfulness-based therapy can have very similar effects to a course of antidepressants.
“These findings are important from the point of view of people living with depression who are trying to engage in their own recovery,” says Dr Gwen Adshead, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. “And it provides evidence that MBCT is an intervention that primary care physicians should take seriously as an option.”