Mindfulness Can Treat Recurring Depression, Study Finds

A new study shows that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy may reduce the risk of depressive relapse among those who’ve suffered severe chronic depression.

Those of us in the mindful community often hear that our thoughts create our reality. When we project our worry into the future and fret about what it will bring, anxiety can often run rampant, while thoughts that dwell on the past can create deep feelings of sadness. Since mindfulness is the art of paying attention to the present moment experience, it would make sense that it is in the here and now when we are most at peace. But it is more complicated than that for those who suffer from depression, a struggle that 14.8 millions Americans face each year.

Chronic depression is a mental disorder that, until now, has typically been treated by antidepressant drugs and/or cognitive therapy. For anyone who has had their depression treated with antidepressants, they know first-hand how difficult it can be to wean themselves off of these powerful drugs—sometimes resulting in relapse. There are three main types of depressive disorders: major depression, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. And all three tiers of the illness affect a person’s ability to live and function normally, with the most severe cases resulting in suicide.

But there is hope: A groundbreaking new study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was highly effective at reducing relapse among severe cases of chronic depression. What’s more is that the greater a person struggled with recurrent depression, the more promising their chances were of recovery through extensive practice of MBCT.

Within a 60-week follow-up period, patients reported a significantly reduced risk of depressive relapse, when compared to those who received normal treatment. Willem Kuyken, PhD, and colleagues of Warneford Hospital at Oxford University reported that, “MBCT reduces the risk of depressive relapse/recurrence compared with the current mainstay approach, maintenance antidepressants.”


“While previous research has shown the superiority of MBCT compared with usual care, this study provides important new evidence that MBCT is also effective compared with other active treatments and that its effects are not restricted to particular groups defined by age, educational level, marital status, or sex,” the researchers wrote.

The finding that MBCT may be most helpful for patients with higher levels of depressive symptoms adds to an emerging consensus that the greater the risk for depressive relapse/recurrence, the more benefit MBCT offers.

Subsequently, patients whose symptoms were less severe were shown to receive less benefit from practicing the mindfulness technique. Of the 1,258 patients studied, two thirds of them were female, since more women are known to experience depression than men. The mean age was approximately 47. Researchers also pointed out that in order for MBCT to remain effective in the long run, patients have to be proactive about continuing to practice.

MBCT was first developed by Dr. Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale, and was based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. The program is designed specifically for people who suffer from recurring depression and general unhappiness. MBCT is a fusion of traditional cognitive therapy and meditation, specifically geared toward cultivating mindfulness. The idea behind this method is when the patient/practitioner is better able to differentiate between the two main modes of the mind—”doing mode” vs. “being mode,” then they become better equipped to self-manage their symptoms in the long run.

With dependency on prescriptions at an astronomical high, and many instances leading to dangerous levels of addiction, isn’t it about time more mainstream medical practitioners turn to holistic healing modalities to help their patients cope with depression?

andrea-rice-headshot-new-editAndrea Rice is a Senior Writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a freelance writer, editor, and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Yoga Journal, SONIMA, mindbodygreen, AstroStyle, and other online publications. You can find her regular classes at shambhala yoga & dance center in Brooklyn, and connect with her on InstagramTwitter, and on her website