How Mindfulness Therapy Might Help Depression Patients

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and antidepressants were both effective in depression treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Antidepressants have long been the standard for treating depression. But mindfulness-based therapy might work just as well for some patients.

A new study found that after two years, antidepressants and mindfulness therapy were about equally effective at keeping depression from coming back.

"Mindfulness therapy provides a particularly good way of healing the underlying psychological process that creates depression, and it also helps you reduce the reactive negative thinking that feeds depression," said Peter Strong, PhD, a professional psychotherapist, online therapist, specialist in mindfulness therapy and author of "The Path of Mindfulness Meditation," in an interview with dailyRx News.

Dr. Strong continued, "In my experience, clients who have a strong motivation to transform the underlying psychological cause of their depression do particularly well with mindfulness therapy. Medications alleviate symptoms but will not necessarily change the underlying cause. Hence many doctors recommend a combination of medication and psychotherapy."

Lead study author Dr. William Kuyken, of the University of Oxford in the UK, and team explained that taking antidepressants for at least two years is currently the recommended treatment. These researchers wanted to explore an alternative to these drugs — mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

"MBCT is intended to enable people to learn to become more aware of their bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings associated with depressive relapse or recurrence and to relate constructively to these experiences," Dr. Kuyken and team wrote.

To compare these two treatments, Dr. Kuyken and team looked at a group of 424 adult patients from the UK. These patients all had a history of at least three past major depressive episodes and were all on antidepressants.

Half of the patients took these medications as usual. The other half participated in a group MBCT program that helped them in tapering off or discontinuing use of the drugs.

Over two years, Dr. Kuyken and team saw no major differences between the two groups in terms of depressive relapse or recurrence — or in terms of serious side effects.

After 24 months, 46 percent of the MBCT group had a relapse. In the antidepressant group, 49 percent did the same, Dr. Kuyken and team found.

"Both treatments were associated with enduring positive outcomes in terms of relapse or recurrence, residual depressive symptoms, and quality of life," Dr. Kuyken and colleagues wrote.

This study was published online April 20 in The Lancet.

Two of the study authors co-direct a group focused on mindfulness. The UK National Institute for Health Research funded this study.

Review Date: 
April 27, 2015
Last Updated:
May 11, 2015