Drugs like selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are effective treatments for the scourge of major depression, but what about the many patients who are reluctant to stay on the medication indefinitely, risking serious relapses? A new Canadian study suggests that a novel alternative – a form of meditation – actually does as good a job in preventing such relapses as the drugs.
Evidence suggests that major-depression patients will often discontinue their medication far too soon. So a team at Ontario’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health looked at whether mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) would work as a replacement. It teaches patients to regulate their emotions, monitor possible relapse triggers and adopt lifestyle changes that help maintain mood balance.
Participants in the study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry, were all treated with antidepressants until their symptoms went into remission. The 84 subjects were then divided into three groups: one that stayed on the drugs, one that took placebos and one that stopped taking the drugs and received MBCT. Relapse rates after 18 months for patients in the MBCT group did not differ from patients on antidepressants, both being in the 30% range, compared to a 70% relapse rate for those on placebos.