The group-based psychological treatment, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed by a team of psychologists from Toronto, Oxford and Cambridge universities has found to be equally effective as anti-depressants treatment.
A research team, led by Professor Willem Kuyken of the University of Exeter, sought to determine the effectiveness of the MBCT in enhancing peoples' quality of life.
The researchers conducted a randomised control trial over 123 people from urban and rural locations who had suffered repeat depressions and were referred to the trial by their GPs. The participants were split randomly into two groups.
Half continued their on-going anti-depressant drug treatment and the rest participated in an MBCT course and were given the option of coming off anti-depressants.
Over the 15 months, the researchers found that 47 pct of the group following the MBCT course experienced a relapse compared with 60pct of those continuing their normal treatment, including anti-depressant drugs.
In addition, the group on the MBCT programme reported a higher quality of life, in terms of their overall enjoyment of daily living and physical well being.
The researchers also compared the cost of providing MBCT programmes with the cost of maintenance anti-depressant treatment.
They found that MBCT provides a cost-effective alternative to anti-depressant drugs.
Unlike most other psychological therapies, MBCT can be taught in groups by a single therapist, and patients then continue to practice the skills they have learned at home by themselves.
"Anti-depressants are widely used by people who suffer from depression and that's because they tend to work. But, while they're very effective in helping reduce the symptoms of depression, when people come off them they are particularly vulnerable to relapse," said Professor Kuyken.
"MBCT takes a different approach - it teaches people skills for life. What we have shown is that when people work at it, these skills for life help keep people well."
"People who suffer depression have long asked for psychological approaches to help them recover in the long-term and MBCT is a very promising approach.
"I think we have the basis for offering patients and GPs an alternative to long-term anti-depressant medication. We are planning to conduct a larger trial to put these results to the test and to examine how MBCT works," he added.
The study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.