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Mindfulness meditation shown effective in curbing relapses of depression

(RxWiki News) Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in combination with meditation has proven equally as effective as antidepressant medication at reducing depression relapses.

MBCT is a non-pharmacological treatment option that teaches emotion-regulation skills so patients can monitor possible depression-relapse triggers and make lifestyle changes.

A new study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) published in the current issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry compared the effectiveness of pharmacotherapy with MBCT. Researchers analyzed individuals who were initially treated with an antidepressant who stopped taking the medication in order to be treated with MBCT.

The study found that many depressed patients discontinue antidepressant medication too soon because of side effects or an unwillingness to take medicine for years.

Participants were diagnosed with major depression were treated with an antidepressant until their symptoms remitted and were then randomly assigned to one of three options: end medication treatment and begin MBCT; end medication treatment and receive a placebo or stay on the medication. Participants who underwent MBCT received eight weekly group sessions and practiced mindfulness as part of daily homework.

Over a period of 18 months, the study found patients receiving the placebo relapsed at a rate of 70 percent, whereas both the MBCT group and the group who remained on medication relapsed at a rate of about 30 percent.

"The real world implications of these findings bear directly on the front line treatment of depression," said Dr. Zindel Segal, Head of the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Clinic in the Clinical Research Department at CAMH. "For that sizeable group of patients who are unwilling or unable to tolerate maintenance antidepressant treatment, MBCT offers equal protection from relapse."

This is encouraging news for those who don't wish to take medication. Many antidepressants prescribed these days are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which have been proven safe and effective. Unwanted side effects can plague those taking the medication, however, making MBCT a viable alternative.

According to Harvard Health Publications, some of these SSRI side effects include:
physical symptoms such as insomnia, rashes, headaches, joint and muscle pain, stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea; reduced blood clotting capacity that increases risk for stomach or uterine bleeding; sexual side effects such as decreased libido and performance; and suicide ideation.

Offering pharmacological and psychological interventions instead of prescription drugs "may keep more patients in treatment and thereby reduce the high risk of recurrence that is characteristic of this disorder," said Segal.

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Review Date: 
December 8, 2010