Millions of people suffer from major depression, and the disorder is considered as a significant public health issue. Without continuous treatment, about four out of five people relapse from it.

Now, the biggest meta-analysis of a cognitive therapy based on mindfulness has revealed that the treatment may potentially be effective in preventing relapse.

Researchers from the University of Oxford examined records of patients, all of which were anonymous and were taken from nine separate randomized trials of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). They had found that MBCT can provide an alternative, treatment choice, or addition to other methods including maintenance medications.

MBCT is group-centered, and it helps patients change how they feel and think about experiences, as well as learn skills that lower the chances of further depressive episodes.

Across nine trials, researchers discovered that 38 percent of patients who underwent MBCT fell into a relapse within a 60-week follow-up, compared to 49 percent of patients who relapsed but did not go through MBCT.

Taking into account the relapse time, those who went through MBCT were 31 percent less likely to experience depressive recurrence during the follow-up.

When researchers included the patients' educational level, gender, age, and the age they first became depressed, they did not find any significant influence on the efficacy of MBCT. This suggested that the approach is helpful for a wide range of people.

Patients who displayed more signs of depression when they began treatment tended to show more positive effects from MBCT in contrast with other approach. Additionally, the study did not find any evidence of adverse events linked to MBCT when conveyed in a clinical context.

Four of the nine trials in the meta-analysis matched MBCT with tapering, discontinuation, continuation of antidepressants, as well as continued maintenance of antidepressants without MBCT.

Data suggested that patients who received MBCT, discontinued or tapered with their medication, were 23 percent less probable to relapse than those who went on with anti-depressants but did not take MBCT.

Professor Richard Byng of University of Plymouth said that although evidence is taken from a small number of trials, the findings of the study are encouraging for clinicians and patients.

He said also there was not enough data to study the types of patient to predict who would most benefit from the treatment. This means that doctors need to be cautious when tapering off antidepressants, and think that some patients may or may not benefit from MBCT along with other treatments.

The findings of the study were featured in the journal JAMA Psychiatry on April 27.

Photo: Ryan Melaugh | Flickr

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