MINDFULNESS THERAPY CAN HELP TREAT DEPRESSION
Recompiled & posted 22 Sept 2015.
Among mental illnesses, Depression is the most common, and also the most tenacious. Up to 80 percent of people who experience a major depressive episode may relapse. But a new and growing body of research is pointing to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, as an effective intervention to depression; without side effects, versus drugs which always have side effects.
"People at risk for depression are dealing with a lot of negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves and
this can easily slide into a depressive relapse. MBCT helps them to recognize that's happening, engage with it in a different way and
respond to it with equanimity and compassion."
Mounting evidence of how Mindfulness Helps
Mindfulness is simply defined as paying attention to one's experience, in the current situation and at the present moment; It involves observing thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging or becoming caught up in them. MBCT seeks to teach people to disengage from the deeply ingrained dysfunctional thoughts that are common with depression.
Currently, MBCT is an eight-week, group-based program that incorporates mindfulness exercises including yoga, body awareness and daily homework, such as eating or doing household chores, with full attention to what one is doing, moment by moment. Thus during a practice session, the participant should take note of when the mind wanders; take note of where it goes. And calmly returns it to the moment by focusing on the breath, bodily sensations or a simple yoga move.
Research has shown MBCT could be better than placebo and as effective as medication helping prevent recurring depressive episodes. Evidence also suggests that MBCT may be of more help to patients most vulnerable to relapse: People with a greater number of prior episodes or who had residual depressive symptoms.
In another study, researchers found that participants who had depression at earlier ages, or who had more adversity or abuse in childhood, were more likely to benefit from MBCT. These patients could be more motivated to new treatment
"[These people] have been depressed more, they've had all these unpleasant things happening to them and they've often tried antidepressants and other kinds of therapy, so they're willing to meditate 40 minutes a day and to do something quite different in terms of mindfulness practices like mindful movement. Those who do best are those ready to engage fully."
While evidence suggests mindfulness works to help prevent depression relapse, researchers don't yet know how.
"It may be that mindfulness leads to an increase in self-compassion and a decrease in experiential avoidance. It may be selective attention — if you focus on your breath, you have less bandwidth to ruminate. There are a lot of factors that are operative and we're just beginning to tease out and deconstruct them. It's like tasting a soup with 10 spices. Is there one main ingredient or is the flavor a combination of things?"
-- Stuart Eisendrath, head of the Depression Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
One characteristic of depression is a habit of thinking negatively about experience, one's self or the future. Mindfulness trains people to be more aware of these thoughts and to stand back and simply observe their thoughts passing through their minds — ‘Oh, there I go again, calling myself an idiot' — instead of trying to control their emotions. Or, in the case of people who have recovered from depression, blaming themselves for feeling down again or worrying about a relapse.
MBCT's emphasis on cultivating awareness and acceptance of the present moment also seeks to harness ruminating and mind wandering, both of which are implicated in depression. Researchers also mention that the group aspect of MBCT may help clients breach the wall of solitary shame and guilt that depression can build.
"Why worry about the future and ruminate about the past?"
"Live for the here and now. It's comfortable. It's the joyful experience of being alive."
"By practicing with others, people realize that the way their minds generate depressive and ruminative thoughts is really no different from others, like that builder over there, or my neighbor. These are just thoughts — not facts in my life."
MBCT is a Benevolent Therapy - It has no Side Effects
"For people with residual symptoms, or who have treatment-resistant depression, MBCT can be sequenced with antidepressant medication and with cognitive-behavioral therapy to help prevent the recurrence of relapse. In other words, it can be an effective adjunct treatment. "
"It was said people with active depression couldn't concentrate, but we didn't find that at all. They practiced it pretty actively. They're often interested in getting treatment other than more medications, too. [Mindfulness] may give them a greater sense of self-efficacy."
Women at high risk of depression who may want to avoid taking drugs during pregnancy may also benefit. Sona Dimidjian, associate professor at the University of Colorado, found significant improvement in self-reported depression symptoms and an 18 percent relapse rate six months postpartum, which compares favorably to the 30 percent found in an earlier study. The women in this study were interested in learning mindfulness techniques and enjoyed the practice; an attitude that may have boost its success.
Mindfulness may also be helpful for children and adolescents. In fact, children seem to have no problem mastering the concepts of MBCT. A study of 408 adolescents aged 13- to-20 in a school-based MBCT program in Belgium was conducted. Of these, 16 percent reported some symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress six months post-training, versus 31 percent in a control group.
Psychology can expect more answers — and questions — given the growing popularity of mindfulness among researchers and the public.
In a state of rapid change and constant distractions that's part of modern society, mindfulness offers an alternate and workable path to peace.
"Meditation has penetrated our culture in a way that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago when I started to investigate it [as a potential treatment] for mood disorders. It resonates with people's desires to find a way of slowing down and returning to an inner psychological reality that is not as easily perturbed."
Taken from "Mindfulness holds promise for treating Depression"
Stacy Lu, Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association
2015, Vol 46, No. 3; Print version: page 50