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Mindfulness As Good As Drugs If You Want To Snap From Chronic Depression

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Depression is one of the most prevalent forms of mental illness with more than 350 million people worldwide suffering from the condition. Treating depression, the leading cause of disability across the globe, according to the World Health Organization, typically involves the use of medication, psychotherapy or both.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence encourages individuals who suffer from recurrent depression to take antidepressants for a minimum of two years. A group of researchers, however, says that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may also offer an alternative treatment, having been found to be potentially as effective as antidepressants in helping chronic depression patients from relapsing.

MBCT was developed from mindfulness techniques that urge individuals to focus more of their attention on the present moment, combined with cognitive behavior therapy. It teaches people to know that negative feelings and thoughts will recur but that they are able to disengage from, understand and accept them. It could also help them avoid getting dragged down into depression.

In a new study published in The Lancet medical journal on April 20, researchers randomly divided volunteers into two groups. Half of the volunteers took their medication while the other half stopped taking drugs in favor of MBCT.

After two years, the 424 volunteers were assessed with a diagnostic tool for measuring mental state known as "structured clinical interview." Researchers found similar outcomes in both groups. Forty-four percent of those in the MBCT had a relapse compared with 47 percent in the antidepressant group, showing that there is little difference when it comes to outcomes.

"We found no evidence that MBCT-TS is superior to maintenance antidepressant treatment for the prevention of depressive relapse in individuals at risk for depressive relapse or recurrence," wrote Willem Kuyken, from the University of Oxford, and colleagues. "Both treatments were associated with enduring positive outcomes in terms of relapse or recurrence, residual depressive symptoms, and quality of life."

As for the cost, mindfulness training is often seen as more expensive because it requires more time with a therapist but the study found that it was not significantly more costly, especially when it is given in group sessions.

Richard Byng, from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said that a lot of people do not want to take antidepressants for a long time. Some also want to avoid the side effects associated with the drug.

Photo: Sander van der Wel | Flickr

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