Let’s start with the bottom line:
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been shown to be equally as effective in preventing relapse as anti-depressant medication.
This came from a study conducted at the University of Exeter where researchers randomly assigned 424 people into a group simply taking anti-depressant medication and another group going through an 8-week MBCT course. In this course participants learned mindfulness skills, how to relate to negative thoughts differently, and how to recognize signs of relapse and take action.
The MBCT group were offered four follow-up sessions within the year and after two years many had tapered off the medication.
The results found that the relapse was similar (44% for MBCT group and 47% for anti-depressant medication group).
This doesn’t mean that if you’re on anti-depressant medication you should get off of it, but it does provide hope that we have the power within us to train our brain with natural anti-depressants.
These are incredibly hopeful and encouraging results and it’s been accepted as a primary intervention for depression in England and Wales.
The Bad News
MBCT is still hard to find for a lot of people. While an increasing amount of people are being trained in it, it’s still largely unavailable to many of us.
The Good News
More Good News: Building Natural Anti-Depressants.
Preventing relapse into depression or riding out depressive episodes with more grace is only the tip of the iceberg in my experience. Mindfulness helps break the depression loop and opens us up to a world of possibility that depression has blinded us to.
As we begin to practice breaking the depression loop, we start to feel a sense of personal control which in itself is a natural anti-depressant.
But we also begin to become aware of the choice to engage things in life that fill our needs and bring us joy. Things like dropping our bad habits and engaging healthier eating, sleep and exercise habits.
We also become open to self-compassion practices, engaging our pro-social values and giving ourselves permission to play again. These are all natural anti-depressants that stem from the mindful lens that MBCT gives to us.
If you’ve struggled with depression or know someone who has, pass along these findings and offerings, you may just be the stimulus that helps change their lives. In my experience, there’s not greater way to uncover happiness than to be of service.
Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy