Meditation Instead of Medication
An ancient Buddhist meditation practice could be as effective as modern drugs at beating depression, new research suggests.
Mindfulness – which teaches people to focus on the present moment – is a growing movement based on ancient Eastern traditions of meditation.
It’s designed to help the patient develop a healthier, more accepting relationship with their thoughts and feelings.
Inspired by ancient Buddhist meditation, mindfulness courses were developed in the late 1970s by US doctors to combat stress.
Mindfulness and Meditation
The guiding principle is to live more ‘in the moment’, spending less time going over past stresses and worrying about future problems.
Techniques include moving the focus of attention around the body and observing sensations that arise – the so-called ‘body scan’.
A secular practice, it is said to help people recognise and overcome negative thoughts while noticing small pleasures.
Professor Willem Kuyken, of Oxford University, said: ‘Depression is a recurrent disorder.
‘Without ongoing treatment as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point.’
MBCT was developed to help people who have experienced repeated bouts of depression by teaching them the skills to recognise and respond constructively to the thoughts and feelings associated with relapse – thereby preventing a downward spiral.
Does Meditation and Mindfulness Really Work?
In the study, 424 adults with recurrent major depression were split into two group at random – half remaining on antidepressants and the others coming off and receiving MBCT.
The latter group attended eight group sessions lasting two-and-a-quarter hours and were given daily home practice.
Afterwards they had the option of attending four follow up sessions over a 12 month period.
The MBCT course consists of guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioural exercises.
Those in the maintenance antidepressant group continued their medication for two years.
Professor Sarah Byford, of King’s College London, said: ‘As a group intervention mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was relatively low cost compared to therapies provided on an individual basis.
‘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.’
‘We therefore have a promising new treatment that is reasonably cost effective and applicable to the large group of patients with recurrent depression.’