Mindfulness 'as good as anti-depressants for tackling depression'
Meditation is as good as anti-depressants for tackling depression, a major study has shown offering a drug-free alternative
Researchers at Oxford University say that Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) stopped as many people from sliding back into depression as strong medication.
Mindfulness, which has grown in popularity in recent years, is a form of meditation which encourages people to become more aware of the present moment and their own place in the world, to avoid thoughts spiralling out of control.
The study followed 492 severely depressed adults over two years, half of whom received mindfulness training and the other half who stayed on anti-depressant drugs.
It found 44 per cent of people practicing mindfulness meditation slipped back into major depression compared with 47 per cent of people taking medication.
“Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point,” said Dr Willem Kuyken, lead author and Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University.
“Whilst this study doesn’t show that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy works any better than maintenance antidepressant medication in reducing the rate of relapse in depression, we believe these results suggest a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions. ”
Figures published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre last year showed that there are around 50 million prescriptions for anti-depressants each year, a seven per cent rise from 2013. In towns including Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Salford, one adult in six is on mood-boosting medication.
Official guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) urges doctors in England to treat patients suffering mild to moderate depression with psychological therapies.
But medication is recommended for more severe depressive illness. The report authors say the meditation could offer a viable alternative.
MBCT was developed to help people who have experienced repeated bouts of depression by teaching them the skills how to recognise thoughts associated with relapse to prevent their conditions escalating.
“Currently, antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse, reducing the likelihood of relapse or recurrence by up to two-thirds when taken correctly,” adds study co-author Professor Richard Byng, from the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, UK.
“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.”
Study participant Nigel Reed, 59, from Sidmouth, Devon, UK, said the mindfulness programme had given him a set of skills which had long-term benefits.
“Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well,” he said.
However some experts warned that the trial was not large enough to come to a definitive conclusive and had not included a placebo group.
Prof Eduard Vieta, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Barcelona, Spain, said: “We should be careful in reading too much into the study. Relapse rates seem to be at the same level as those in placebo arms of controlled antidepressant trials.
“The trial lacks assay sensitivity, meaning that we don't know if both treatments are equally good or equally bad.”
The research was published in the Lancet.