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Meditation and Mindfulness Works as Well as Anti Depressant Medication to Prevent Depression Relapse

Mindfulness, a technique out of Buddhist meditation that helps people stay focused on the present moment, works as well as anti depressant medications in helping people with depression avoid relapse.

For 18 months, Canadian researcher, Zindel V. Segal of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health followed 84 adult patients who, at the start of the study, had gotten depression under control with medication.

The study subjects were divided into 3 groups:

  • 1 group continued to take anti depressant medications to prevent relapse
  • 1 group was given a placebo medication
  • 1 group was given no medication, but was instead trained in mindfulness and meditation exercises, and instructed to meditate daily for 40 minutes

The Results

After 18 months:

  • 60% of the patients given a placebo had relapsed back to depression
  • 46% of the patients taking an anti depressant had relapsed
  • 38% of the patients trained in mindfulness had relapsed

Although maintenance therapy with an anti depressant medication is effective (see the 54% success rate above) research shows that as many as 40% of patients prescribed a maintenance course of anti depressants to ward off remission fail to take their medications; because of this, the study authors note, “For those unwilling or unable to tolerate maintenance antidepressant treatment, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy offers equal protection from relapse during an 18-month period.”

Why Does It Work?

Segal says that mindfulness exercises and mediation help people with depression become more attuned to triggers that can lead to depressive feelings. Segal explains, saying, "If you had depression triggers, you might turn your attention instead to the fact that you enjoy eating your food, and that you walk outside and it's a bright sunny day."

Segal admits that for some people, finding 40 minutes a day for meditation and mindfulness exercises can be challenging, but she says the dividends of the time expenditure more than make up for any difficulties, adding that, “It’s kind of like going like going to the gym and working a muscle, except in this case you’re not working a muscle in your body, you’re working the muscles in your brain that help you understand and control your emotions.”

Segal is looking into expanding access to mindfulness exercises for people with depression, and may develop an online mindfulness program.

The full results of the study have been published in the Archives of General Psychology.

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