Mindfulness Therapy as Effective as Medications for Depression

In a recent study, researchers hypothesized that cognitive mindfulness training and practice would be better than antidepressant medications for people suffering from recurrent depression.

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was developed from basic mindfulness techniques.  Mindfulness techniques are designed to help people stay focused on the present moment and not dwell in the past or the future.  These skills were combined with traditional cognitive behavior therapy to form MBCT. 

The standard treatment for depression involves long term antidepressant medications.  These can be given for courses of treatment lasting years.  Many people are looking for alternatives to these medications or want to find ways to experience life without them.  Furthermore, many of these antidepressant medications have side effects that people would prefer to avoid.

The study used 424 participants.  The participants either did the MBCT or used the standard antidepressant medications.  The participants that did the MBCT had 8 group sessions of 2 hours, home practice and options for 4 follow ups over the course of the year.  The antidepressant group took appropriate medications.  The researchers then looked at outcomes based on how the participants felt after one year.  

The researchers did not find what they expected.  Rather than being better than the medications, MBCT turned out to be just the same as the medications but had far fewer side effects.  The relapse rate for the 2 groups was 47% for the MBCT and 44% for the antidepressant medications.  These are not statistically different.  The researchers also found that the MBCT could be done effectively in the group treatment setting saving heavily on the cost of the therapy.  

It is possible that with continued therapy and a strong home practices the benefits of MBCT could far outweigh the benefits of antidepressant medications.  However, in the mean time, it is good to know that there are effective drug-free therapies available for people suffering from recurrent depression.