Anti-depressant medications and/or psychotherapy (psychological counseling) are very effective in treating most cases of depression. It is often a recurring disorder, and so people with a history of the ailment are frequently placed on a long-term course, typically about two years, of anti-depressants. Previous research suggests that anti-depressants can reduce the risk of relapse by up to two-thirds when taken correctly. Without treatment, as many as four out of five people relapse at some point.
The side effects of using anti-depressants have fueled interest in alternative methods like dubbed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Researchers have found that this form of mental training which helps people recognize the onset of depression, and control it, works as well as anti-depressants in preventing relapse.
MBCT entails training depression sufferers to accept that negative feelings and thoughts are likely to recur, to recognize them when they do, and deal with them effectively rather than trigger a depressive spiral by dwelling on the gloomy. The method may offer a welcome alternative for people wishing to avoid long-term use of anti-depressants, which can have unpleasant side effects like insomnia, constipation and sexual problems.
Study leader Willem Kuyken, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, said, "Although the method was not more effective than drugs, the findings nevertheless suggested a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions."
Researchers compared the efficacy of MBCT and anti-depressants. Four hundred and twenty four depression sufferers in England were part of the study. They were randomly divided into two groups. Half continued taking their medication while the rest phased out the drugs in favor of MBCT. The MBCT training involved eight group sessions of two hours and 15 minutes each, with daily home practice. Participants were given the option of four follow-up sessions over the following year.
All 424 volunteers were assessed for a period of two years with a diagnostic tool called 'the structured clinical interview', which measures mental state. The researchers found that the MBCT group had a 44% relapse rate, compared to 47% in the group taking anti-depressants. Study co-author Sarah Byford from King's College London said, "As a group intervention, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was relatively low cost compared to therapies provided on an individual basis."
The study in published in The Lancet