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December 6th, 2010
04:01 PM ET

Mindfulness as good as antidepressant drugs, study says

Mindfulness therapy is gaining headway in many areas of psychology, and now there's more evidence to back up its effectiveness.

A new study published the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that depression patients in remission who underwent mindfulness therapy did as well as those who took an antidepressant, and better than those who took a placebo. That means that mindfulness therapy was as effective as antidepressants in protecting against a relapse of depression.

Mindfulness generally refers to the concept of being present and in the moment, and comes from the Buddhist meditation tradition. In the context of this study, mindfulness therapy incorporates meditation and focuses on helping patients watch their feelings and thoughts in a way that lets them work with them differently, said Zindel Segal of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, in Toronto, Ontario.

Participants who received mindfulness therapy learned how to meditate on their own for 40 minutes a day, in addition to going to a session with a therapist.

"It’s kind of like going like going to the gym and working a muscle, except in this case you’re not working a muscle in your body, you’re working the muscles in your brain that help you understand and control your emotions," Segal said.

Having this alternative to psychotropic medications is crucial because up to 40 percent of people who come out of depression do not take their prescribed antidepressants to prevent relapse, defying doctors' recommendations. Pregnant women, for example, may be concerned about the effect of the drugs on the baby. Mindfulness seems to be an effective, non-pharmaceutical alternative, Segal said.

One drawback with mindfulness is that it can be a struggle to find time for it, Segal said. You have to carve out 30 to 40 minutes per day to do the meditations on your own, according to this particular regimen. But it can become part of a plan to take care of yourself, he said.

The next step is making mindfulness therapy practice available to more people, he said. There may be ways of delivering it online, for example. Right now there are few people trained with it, and about 14.8 million American adults have major depressive disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.


soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Hoss

    Reality is horrible and truth is truly stranger than any science fiction movie. I personally need my anti-depressant to help me cope with the reality that we are actually on a piece of dirt that is 7900 miles thick and our milky way galaxy that our earth is in is going thru space at over a million miles per hour. It's true, google it. Plus the best trick is to sooth yourself with that little voice in your head. That little voice that we all have in our head is where it's all at.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Richard

    I suffer from Complicated PTSD and have recently completed a 3 year plus out patient treatment therapy at Vancouver General Hospital in Canada. Mindfulness exercises in conjunction with medication has increased my quality of living 10 fold. However, mindfulness does not require 40 minutes a day of daily practice to be useful. Just taking time to not what ones thoughts are and sitting with them and letting them pass through you can take a few seconds or minutes. Practing mediation for 40 minutes when you can will no doubt make your mindful moments more recongnizeable but dont be put off of mindfulness just because you feel you dont have 40 minutes a day to set aside for meditation. Just being mindful of your current thoughts and feelings may also give you the recognition to say a prayer to God if your are so inclinded to pray. Anyone of any faith can use benefit from this. Even if your resources just allow you to go to the public library and read a book or if there is a free group at your local mental health center, give it a try. Good luck to everyone and dont give up!! God Bless.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Hoss

    Along with my anti-depressant I use that little voice that we all have in our head to tell myself things like "at least I have this life, I could have never been lucky enough to experience a life and I can do anything I want to do, if not today then on my next day off or after I get off work, etc. When loved ones die my life turns to unbearable for a while. I try to keep my mind off of that as much as possible until I can start hypnotising myself again with that little voice in my head, that we all have, until I start feeling sort of like living again. The death of loved ones is very difficult for me.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. roy369

    i dont' get people trying to twist around the words of bible and spinnin them to make them to mean meditation. if jesus meant meditation then he would have used the word meditation. the fact is he did not. the pope is clear on that and says it is not christian thing. now who would you rather belive, the pope or a yoga teacher? if meditation was in the bible why did people start using it just recently from hindu gurus like larry king's darling deepak choka? there is no reference in history to suggest any priest teaching meditation in europe. we all know cnn is trying to undo christianity. it has now got a whole bunch of minorites on cnn who fired glen beck because he was doubting if obama wasn't a muslim.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Robin

      Of course, Jesus was speaking ancient Aramaic, so who knows what the heck he was actually saying? You and I are both stuck trusting the many translators through whose hands the Bible has passed between over two thousand years ago and now.

      December 7, 2010 at 02:23 | Report abuse |
    • Pope

      yoga teacher....hands down.

      May 22, 2011 at 01:25 | Report abuse |
  5. Hoss

    Instead of just meditating for 30 minutes, try using that little voice that we all have in our heads to tell yourself good positive stuff for 30 minutes. Things like "I am really very lucky to even have a life to live". I swear that is even better than meditation alone. The little voice is our head is the key to our happiness.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Fuyuko

    I say whatever works for people is what they should do. I'm just glad that something helps and peace be upon everyone who suffers.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. SOMA

    I took a ten days Vipassana meditaion course 2 times ( 20 days), now my allergies for 9 years are almost gone.
    It is wonderful. Give yourself a try, people benefits different things from this technique. Go to http://www.dhamma.org

    December 7, 2010 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Headstrong

    How on earth did this become a forum on religion? Crazy American fundamentalist Christians are robots. Someone please turn them off. Hey, I've got an idea: since they're so against anyone exercising freedom of religion (or any other kind), let's just END freedom of religion and get rid of THEM! Ugh. Christians make me sick.

    December 7, 2010 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pope

      I'm with you dude. ALL JUEDO CHRISTIANS can kiss my ass.

      May 22, 2011 at 01:26 | Report abuse |
  9. FreeSpiritGal

    I was diagnosed with depression at 12. It was hell all the way through my twenties! I learned to meditate when I was 29. Meditation and mindfulness have been an important part of my life ever since. I equate taking time to meditate with daily hygiene, in this case, it's a mental hygiene! I found that consistency is the key, it's better to meditate for 30 min every day than an hour and a half every other day. I started to practice meditation for its benefits, now I simply LOVE to meditate! I'm in my fifties now ;~)

    December 7, 2010 at 02:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FreeSpiritGal

      PS: I do not take any chemicals or anti-depressants. They never worked for me. But I can see that perhaps some people may need to take them for a while, until meditation and mindfulness practice become automatic, then GRADUALLY ween yourself off them. Best wishes to everyone!

      December 7, 2010 at 02:33 | Report abuse |
  10. Robin

    My mom had been suffering from depression for years before it was formally diagnosed and she went on Prozac. It completely turned her life around. Depression can absolutely be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, in which case it's correctable only with medical treatment. At the same time, I would agree that many people who are on depression medication would have longer-lasting benefits from changes in their lifestyles - confronting toxic relationships or jobs or other sources of stress, objectively exploring their emotions, and so on, things that go hand-in-hand with meditation. But it's so easy to feel as though we have to live certain ways, and when those certain ways result in our unhappiness, it's much easier to take a "happy pill" than to change the way you think about your whole life.

    December 7, 2010 at 02:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Karen

    In our series about how to avoid and conquer depression, we just wrote a post in line with this article. Briefly; studies have shown that exercise and a meditation/yoga type of breathing counteracts depression. For the extensive explanation, read this: http://www.cutthecarb.com/how-to-avoid-and-conquer-depression-part-2/

    December 7, 2010 at 03:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Leslie

    Clinical depression is an illness of the brain–for whatever reason, neurotransmitters don't work correctly. Clinical studies have shown that a tiny part of the brain called Brodmann area 25 is connected to problems with serotonin in treatment-resistent depression. The study in the CNN story focused on depression that was in remission. For some people, meditation and drugs work the same. But for those of us with deep depression (every day is a really bad day), meditation is not an answer. When your mind can't work correctly because neurotransmitters are totally messing with your brain, sitting down to meditate is not really possible. I eventually had to have ECT to bring me out of a deep depression. I will take medication the rest of my life. Now I have to deal with the habits of my thinking burned into my mind by depression.

    Please don't confuse treatable depression that goes into remission with treatment-resistent depression. It does a great disservice to those who battle this disease daily. And as a Christian, I say whatever gets someone to their "happy place" is OK with me.

    December 7, 2010 at 06:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lioness

      I agree. No one, absolutely no one, has a right to judge or criticize people who take antidepressant medication and benefit from it. Those who have not experienced severe long-term depression and been helped by medication should try to understand instead of judging.

      December 7, 2010 at 09:49 | Report abuse |
  13. Greg

    If you have private insurance, it is CRUCIAL that you switch to one of the new plans made available after September 23, 2010 because they include free preventative care (like flu shots), they have no annual or lifetime maximums, and kids don't have to go through underwriting and must be accepted up to age 26 regardless of pre-existing conditions. If you bought your health insurance before September 23, you can get a free quote at usabg.net/ghovey/quote

    December 7, 2010 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ok Now

    Like melinda, I have been dealing with depression my whole life. After trying different anti-depressants, therapy, etc, the thing that helped me the most was meditation. It isn't just relaxing; it does seem to alter thinking in a positive way, providing clarity and the ability to handle the things that seem so difficult when you're depressed (sometimes just getting out of bed). I'm grateful for this study, as I know that others have found the same solution. Anti-depressants gave me a noticable brain fuzziness... even though I could function better, I did not feel like myself. Some medications work for some people, and I think that's great if that's what they want or need to do. For me, I'll stick to 15 minutes of day of mindfulness meditation. Somehow, things make more sense, I'm more in control, and feel more like who I want to be than before. Sorry for sounding like a wacko – but anyone who has been through this knows what I mean.

    December 7, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. razzlea

    I love yoga and i do beleive excercise certainly helps with mild depression. Check out my health and fitness blog http://razzlea.blogspot.com/

    December 7, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. researcher

    @MedStudent – Holistic treatments don't WANT to be studied? Are you forgetting how much $$ it takes to properly research anything, and that medical research is primarily funded by agencies that will greatly suffer if the pharmaceutical industry weakens? "Holistic treatments" would love to be studied and proven effective more than they are today. But clean research money that would be used to suggest that we can maybe actually heal ourselves without PURCHASING anything is really hard to find.

    December 8, 2010 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Really???

    If you're worried about Christianity and meditation, just remember that there is no proof of any gods' existence so you're unlikely to enrage your god by taking a few minutes to meditate.

    December 8, 2010 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Flaffer

    Wow. That study is either REALLY, REALLy bad or the science write is really, really bad. Two main issues: there is no such thing as "depression". Rather there are many delineations of types of depression with varying symptoms across the board. Which ones did the participants have? Second, one other way to look at it is to say talk therapy works (we know that from the vast literature on therapy and treatment outcomes for depression). Adding "mindfulness" without CONTROLLING for it makes this study ridiculous on its face.

    Not saying that meditation does not have an effect, so put out the flames. I am merely claiming that according to this writeup, the reporter likes wasting time.

    December 9, 2010 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. James

    Exercise is really good too for mild depression. Also Gupta, while I'm thinking of it, could you stop fear-mongering all the time? I can't watch you because I know you're going to run my day.

    December 11, 2010 at 06:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. amelia

    meditating for 30-40 mins a day is really challenging. it's hard to stay with yourself, the thoughts and feelings that arise for that long. and if you are depressed and u try to do that and feel like u are not improving, then you may stop meditating all together. medication has worked for me and i was loathe to try it for a long, long time. i also see a therapist once a week. the combination of talk therapy and meds has changed my life for the better. meds are not an "easy fix" or an "easy out" from your troubles. they have helped me to put things into perspective and have an improved sense of well being. i will keep meditating for as long as i can, however, the meds/therapy really has helped. there is no reason to be depressed anymore if you can find a reputable phychiatrist and therapist to help you feel better.

    December 23, 2010 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Calvin

    I have benefited from a similar approach. While meditation facilitates the process, I think the ability to watch thoughts arise and question they're basis is what makes it work. Letting go of what you think you are and accepting reality leaves no place for depression.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. luigi fuly

    good blog approximately windows problems,It helps me a lot ,Thank you!

    January 5, 2011 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. pdmstrong

    The power of mindfulness for healing the mind is quite extraordinary. The transformative power of mindfulness lies in the fact that it helps us form a non-reactive relationship with our emotions and reactive habitual thoughts. When we see these habits we don't get so identified with them and we stop feeding the "wolf" of our emotional suffering. But, more than that, mindfulness responds to suffering with compassion. My definition of mindfulness is Mindfulness = Awareness + Compassion, and both qualities must be present when you meditate on your emotions.
    Providing Mindfulness Therapy Online has been a passion of mine for several years now, and it is certainly an excellent alternative to traditional in-person sessions, especially if using Skype, which is my preferred option. (Learn more about Online Mindfulness Therapy at http://www.counselingtherapyonline.com).

    March 21, 2013 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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