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Mindfulness therapy can be as good as medication for preventing depressive relapses

The alternative treatment helps patients learn how to respond more constructively to their thoughts and feelings.

Image: mindfulness image via Shutterstock

NEW RESEARCH HAS suggested mindfulness-based therapy could be a successful alternative treatment for people who do not wish to continue long-term anti-depressant treatment.

The results come from the first ever large study comparing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) with maintenance of antidepressant medication for reducing the risk of relapse in depression.

Mindfulness-based therapy involves training the mind and body to help manage the way people think and feel about their experiences and respond constructively to them.

This study, published in The Lancet today, aimed to establish whether its use would be better than staying on anti-depressants but has not proven that it is more effective. Rather, it has shown that this alternative for of therapy could offer similar protection against a depressive relapse for people who have experienced multiple episodes of depression.

“Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point,” explains Willem Kuyken, lead author and Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford in the UK.

“Currently, maintenance antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse, reducing the likelihood of relapse or recurrence by up to two-thirds when taken correctly,” added study co-author Professor Richard Byng, from the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, UK.

However, 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 trial involved 424 adults with recurrent major depression and taking similar medication. Half were told to stay on their medication and the other half were assigned to come off the drugs slowly and receive mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

They attended eight 2¼ hour group sessions and were given daily home practice. After the group, they had the option of attending four follow-up sessions over a 12 month period.

Over two years, relapse rates in both groups were similar; 44% in the MBCT group vs 47% in the maintenance antidepressant medication group. Although five adverse events were reported, including two deaths across both groups, they were not judged to be attributable to the interventions or the trial.

“Whilst this study doesn’t show that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy works any better than maintenance antidepressant medication in reducing the rate of relapse in depression, we believe these results suggest a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions,” commented Professor Kuyken.

Read: Why you need a ‘mindfulness minute’ in your life>

Read: Like to start the year feeling more relaxed? These apps can help>

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