Meditation is as Effective as Anti-Depressants in Treating Depression

Wednesday 22nd April 2015

A major study has revealed that meditation is as good as anti-depressants when it comes to tackling depression.

According to researchers from Oxford University, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) stopped the same amount of people from relapsing back into depression as strong medication.

Mindfulness has gained a great deal of popularity in recent years. It is a form of meditation that encourages people to feel more aware of their own place in the world and the present moment in an attempt to stop spiralling thoughts.

Over two years, the study followed 492 adults suffering with severe depression. Half of the participants stayed on anti-depressant drugs and the other half received mindfulness training.

The research discovered that 47 percent of the people taking medication slipped back into severe depression, compared with 44 percent of those practicing mindfulness meditation.

Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University and lead author or the study, Dr Willem Kuyken, explained that depression is a recurring disorder. Up to four out of five people with depression relapse at some point if they fail to receive ongoing treatment.

He added that whilst his study doesn’t show MBCT works any better than anti-depressants in reducing the relapse rate for depression, it does suggest a new option for the millions of people on repeat prescriptions for recurrent depression.

The Health and Social Care Information Centre published figures last year that showed there are around 50 million anti-depressant prescriptions every year, a rise of seven percent since 2013. In towns including Middlesbrough, Salford and Sunderland, one in six adults are taking mood-boosting medication.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued official guidance urging UK doctors to treat patients experiencing mild to moderate depression with psychological therapies rather than medication.

Medication is recommended for people suffering with more severe depression. Authors of the report believe that meditation could provide a practical alternative.

MBCT was developed to help those experiencing recurrent depression by teaching them how to recognise thoughts associated with relapse to stop their conditions from escalating.

The study’s co-author, Professor Richard Byng, said that anti-depressant medication is currently the most important treatment for relapse prevention, as it reduces the likelihood of relapse by up to two thirds when correctly taken.

However, he went on to say that there are a number of people who, for various reasons, are not able to keep on a course of anti-depressant medication.

Participant of the study Nigel Reed, 59, said the mindfulness programme introduced him to a set of skills with long-term advantages. He said that instead of relying on the continuous use of anti-depressants, mindfulness puts him in charge and allows him to take control of his own future and spot where he is at risk. With mindfulness, he can see where to make the necessary changes to stay well.

The research is published in the Lancet.