A new study published the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that depression patients in remission who underwent mindfulness therapy did as well as those who took an antidepressant, and better than those who took a placebo. That means that mindfulness therapy was as effective as antidepressants in protecting against a relapse of depression.
Mindfulness generally refers to the concept of being present and in the moment, and comes from the Buddhist meditation tradition. In the context of this study, mindfulness therapy incorporates meditation and focuses on helping patients watch their feelings and thoughts in a way that lets them work with them differently, said Zindel Segal of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto, Ontario.
Participants who received mindfulness therapy learned how to meditate on their own for 40 minutes a day, in addition to going to a session with a therapist.
"It’s kind of like going like going to the gym and working a muscle, except in this case you’re not working a muscle in your body, you’re working the muscles in your brain that help you understand and control your emotions," Segal said.
Having this alternative to psychotropic medications is crucial because up to 40 percent of people who come out of depression do not take their prescribed antidepressants to prevent relapse, defying doctors' recommendations. Pregnant women, for example, may be concerned about the effect of the drugs on the baby. Mindfulness seems to be an effective, non-pharmaceutical alternative, Segal said.
One drawback with mindfulness is that it can be a struggle to find time for it, Segal said. You have to carve out 30 to 40 minutes per day to do the meditations on your own, according to this particular regimen. But it can become part of a plan to take care of yourself, he said.
The next step is making mindfulness therapy practice available to more people, he said. There may be ways of delivering it online, for example. Right now there are few people trained with it, and about 14.8 million American adults have major depressive disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.