Meditation Treatment Beats DepressionA new study shows that meditation is much more effective than drugs in eliminating depression.
Clinical depression is far more than feeling blue. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 20 million people in the U.S. have persistant depression that can interfere with everyday life, impact health and even lead to suicide. Now, for the first time, a study has shown that treatment based on meditation is an effective alternative to prescription drugs, even for people suffering from serious, long-term depression.
The research, just published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found that the group-based psychological treatment called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was as good or better as treatment with anti-depressants like Prozac in preventing a relapse of serious depression — and the non-drug therapy was more effective in enhancing quality of life. What’s more, the study concluded MBCT is cost-effective in helping people with a history of depression stay well for the long term.
The research team, which included British investigators from the Mood Disorders Center at the University of Exeter and the Center for Economics of Mental Health (CEMH) at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London, looked at 123 people who had suffered repeated episodes of clinical depression. In a randomized control trial , the research subjects were assigned to one of two groups. Half continued their on-going drug treatment with anti-depressants and the rest participated in an MBCT course and were also given the option of stopping their anti-depressant medications.
MBCT focuses on targeting negative thinking and helps people who are at risk for recurring depression to stop their depressed moods from spiraling out of control into a full episode of depression. During the eight-week trial, groups of between eight and fifteen people attended meetings with a therapist who taught them a range of meditation exercises that they could continue to practice on their own once the course ended. The MBCT exercises were primarily based on Buddhist meditation techniques and helped the study participants learn to focus on the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about future tasks.
Although the meditation exercises worked in a different way for each person, many reported more control over their negative thoughts and depressed feelings. Over the 15 months after the trial ended , about 47% of the group following the MBCT course experienced a relapse — but those who continued normal treatment with anti-depressant drugs experienced a much higher, 60 percent relapse rate. In addition, the group practicing the mindfulness meditation techniques learned in the MBCT program reported a far better quality of life, more overall enjoyment and better physical well-being.
In a statement to the media, Professor Willem Kuyken of the University of Exeter , who headed the research, explained that people treated with anti-depressants are highly vulnerable to relapse when they stop their prescription drug therapy. “MBCT takes a different approach – it teaches people skills for life. What we have shown is that when people work at it, these skills for life help keep people well. Our results suggest MBCT may be a viable alternative for some of the 3.5 million people in the UK known to be suffering from this debilitating condition. People who suffer depression have long asked for psychological approaches to help them recover in the long-term and MBCT is a very promising approach. I think we have the basis for offering patients and GPs an alternative to long-term anti-depressant medication. We are planning to conduct a larger trial to put these results to the test and to examine how MBCT works,” Kuvken said.