Relapse is a common and devastating aspect of major depression, a mental illness that affects roughly 15 million Americans. The usual preventative treatment is long-term or maintenance use of antidepressants.
Now a large new study published in The Lancet suggests that mindfulness therapy can be just as effective in preventing relapse.
The relapse rates are high: More than half of those who suffer from one episode of major depression will relapse at least once in their lifetimes, and roughly 80 percent of those who have had two episodes will experience another recurrence.
Yet as Dr. Richard Byng, a psychologist at the U.K.’s Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry and one of the study’s authors, noted, “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.”
The study, conducted from the U.K.’s University of Exeter, compared the results of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) with those of maintenance antidepressant use among 424 adults with recurring major depression.
Researchers asked half of the participants to stay on their medications, while the other half tapered off medication and underwent a course of MBCT. Those in the MBCT group attended two-hour-plus weekly group sessions for eight weeks, consisting of guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioral exercises. They were also given daily home practice and, after the group sessions ended, had the opportunity to attend four follow-up sessions over the course of the next year.
Regular assessments for major depressive episodes over the following two years found similar relapse rates among the MBCT group (44 percent) and the antidepressant group (47 percent).
How does MBCT work? Using meditation, individuals learn to separate themselves from the sway of their immediate moods. They learn to recognize negative thought patterns and to respond productively, rather than spiraling downward into obsessive thoughts and relapsing into depression.
Dr. Zindel Segal, a University of Toronto psychologist and the co-developer of MBCT, explained that short-circuiting negative thoughts allows people to find joy in the present moment.
“MBCT, at its core, is teaching people to practice mindfulness,” Segal, who was not involved in the study, told The Huffington Post. “And what mindfulness teaches people is how to work more wisely with their emotions. It’s a meditation that is really well suited to helping people encounter difficult states of mind and turning around how they work with them, so that they can choose more adaptive responses rather than habitual responses.”
Segal expressed enthusiasm about the new findings, which he said offer further clinical evidence that mindfulness-based therapies can rival traditional psychotherapy and pharmaceutical intervention in treating major depression.
“This study gives us a lot more confidence in telling people that if, for some reason, they can’t stay on their antidepressants for the next three or five more years,” said Segal, “there is now a credible and scientifically supported alternative to help them stay well.”
Related Online Continuing Education Courses:
Mindfulness: The Healing Power of Compassionate Presence is a 6-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course for mental health professionals that gives you the mindfulness skills necessary to work directly, effectively and courageously, with your own and your client’s life struggles. Compassion towards others starts with compassion towards self. Practicing mindfulness cultivates our ability to pay intentional attention to our experience from moment to moment. Mindfulness teaches us to become patiently and spaciously aware of what is going on in our mind and body without judgment, reaction, and distraction, thus inviting into the clinical process, the inner strengths and resources that help achieve healing results not otherwise possible. Bringing the power of mindful presence to your clinical practice produces considerable clinical impact in the treatment of anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic pain, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, colitis/IBS, and migraines/tension headaches. The emphasis of this course is largely experiential and will offer you the benefit of having a direct experience of the mindfulness experience in a safe and supportive fashion. You will utilize the power of “taking the client there” as an effective technique of introducing the mindful experience in your practice setting. As you will learn, the mindfulness practice has to be experienced rather than talked about. This course will provide you with an excellent understanding of exactly what mindfulness is, why it works, and how to use it. You will also develop the tools that help you introduce mindful experiences in your practice, and how to deal with possible client resistance. Course #60-75 | 2008 | 73 pages | 27 posttest questions
Depression is a 1-hour introductory online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that provides an overview to the various forms of depression, including signs and symptoms, co-existing conditions, causes, gender and age differences, and diagnosis and treatment options. Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness. Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression. Some types of depression tend to run in families. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression too. Scientists are studying certain genes that may make some people more prone to depression. Some genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors. In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Other depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger. Course #10-72 | 2014 | 14 pages | 10 posttest questions
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