Could the age-old practice of meditation lead to benefits as strong as those seen with antidepressant medication?
A new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada, has found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy — using meditation — could provide the same protection against “depressive relapse” as traditional antidepressants.
A depressive relapse is when a person slips back into a bad case of depression. Major depression is a recurring disorder, so treatment options are important for people to prevent it from returning to their lives.
The study is published in the new “Archives of General Psychiatry.” It compared the effectiveness of drugs with mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). It studied people who were initially treated with an antidepressant and then either stopped taking the medication in order to receive MBCT or continued taking medication for 18 months.
Researchers have found that many depressed patients stop taking antidepressants too soon, because of side effects or a simple unwillingness to be on drugs for years on end. MBCT, on the other hand, is a non-drug approach that teaches some important skills. Those revolve around regulating emotion yourself, so patients can monitor possible relapse triggers as well as alter their lifestyle to sustain their mood balance.
All those in the study had major depressive disorder and all had used antidepressants until their symptoms remitted. Then they received MBCT exclusively, received a placebo exclusively, or stayed on their medication.
Participants in MBCT attended eight weekly group sessions and practiced mindfulness as part of daily homework assignments. Researchers assessed their progress at regular intervals. They found that, over an 18-month period, relapse rates for patients in the MBCT group did not differ from patients receiving antidepressants. Both groups turned out to be in the 30% range of relapse. Those on placebo, however, relapsed at a significantly higher rate — 70%.
What they found, the experts say, directly link to the frontline treatment of depression. For the large group of patients who are unwilling or unable to tolerate antidepressants to maintain their mood, MBCT offers equal protection from relapse. It is a possibly invaluable tool to learn and help keep depression in the shadows and not blindingly disrupting your life. After all, meditation is in the mind, and so is depression.