We've long been familiar with the benefits of mindfulness meditation — including (but not limited to) improved productivity and focus, reduced anxiety and stress, and better sleep — but we may have underestimated just how powerful a practice it is.
In a groundbreaking new study, researchers at Oxford University found that mindfulness meditation could be just as effective as anti-depressants at preventing people relapsing into depression.
According to the World Health Organization, over 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, making it one of the most common forms of mental illness.
Typically, treatment entails medication, some form of psychotherapy, or a combination of both. But many patients still struggle to get better because they're unequipped to handle relapses.
"Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point," explained lead author Willem Kuyken, in a press release.
That's where mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) comes in. This type of therapy was developed to help people who have experienced repeated periods of depression by teaching them skills to recognize and more constructively handle the overwhelming feelings that come with relapse. This is, in turn, supposed to prevent the thoughts from going any further down the depression spiral.
The two-year study looked at 424 patients from 95 general practices. Half was assigned to come off their antidepressants slowly and receive MBCT while the other half was simply to stay on their medication.
The 212 participants assigned to receive MBCT attended eight group mindfulness therapy sessions and were given daily home practice as well as an option to have four follow-up sessions over a 12-month period.
The researchers found that, after two years, those undergoing MBCT were 44% more prone to relapsing compared to 47% of those strictly using antidepressants.
"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," said Kuyken, "we believe these results suggest a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions."
Do what's right for you. Mindfulness and antidepressants can go hand in hand. But while antidepressants may only solve depression-related issues in the short term, developing a mindfulness practice can give you a set of skills to use in the long term. Rather than relying on the use of antidepressants, mindfulness can help you take control of your life.