Mindfulness – the practice of attending to thoughts and feelings in the present moment – has been the focus of a lot of research attention recently and even under the full glare of science, it just keeps getting better.
In the first ever large scale study of its kind, researchers explored whether teaching people mindfulness would be as effective as maintenance doses of antidepressants in managing relapse in depression.
According to Willem Kuyken, lead author of the study and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, without ongoing treatment four out of five people who struggle with depression will relapse.
Maintenance doses of antidepressant medication can reduce the risk of relapse by two-thirds, but it’s not without its problems. The side effects can be intolerable for some, and others might (understandably) be averse to an indefinite dependence on medication.
The Study: What They Did
424 adults with diagnosed major depression participated in the two year study. Half were required to stay on their antidepressant medication for the duration of the study. The other half slowly come off their medication and participated in mindfulness practice. People in this group attended eight weekly 2 ¼ hour group sessions consisting of guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioural exercises. They were also required to practice daily at home.
What They Found
At the end of two years, mindfulness was shown to be as effective as medication in preventing relapse, with the rates of relapse being 44% for the mindfulness group and 47% for the medication group.
The benefits of mindfulness therapy over medication include its low cost and its appeal to those who are reluctant to depend indefinitely on medication as a way to stave off depression.
The slide into depression can be triggered by negative thoughts and feelings about the self, others and the world. Mindfulness therapy aims to change the way people think and feel, teaching the skills to recognise and respond to thoughts and feelings that could otherwise set in motion a depressive downward spiral.
Through mindfulness, people can learn to appreciate that just because they think something, that doesn’t mean the thought is fact. Rather than hanging on to a thought and letting it gain momentum and strength, mindfulness teaches how to let the thought come and then go.
For more information on mindfulness, see MINDFULNESS: THE WHAT, THE HOW AND THE DIFFERENCE 5 MINUTES A DAY WILL MAKE