Mindfulness is a simple technique that many swear by. Now it appears the method can be as effective as more conventional treatments for depression and anxiety. (Photo: Caleb Roenigk, Flickr)

Mindfulness as useful as therapy to treat depression

The quickest road out of depression might be to simply be aware of how you feel, without trying to change those feelings.

Mindfulness has become a well-known concept. It refers to a method rooted in Buddhism which enables people to solve certain mental problems on their own.

Recent Swedish research suggests that mindfulness not only works for depression and anxiety but that it can be as effective as more conventional treatments.

Changing ways of thought

Cognitive behavioural therapy is the current conventional treatment for depression and anxiety. This approach aims to alter a patient’s way of thinking by replacing harmful thoughts with those that are more oriented toward a sense of mastering and overcoming problems.

Mindfulness, however, encourages the observation of feelings in a neutral way. When individuals are conscious of how they feel, they can guide their reactions to what occurs around them.

Both treatments can be said to have an effect on depression and anxiety. This has led Swedish researchers to try to find out which had the most effect. The results of their study were recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Two groups

The researchers divided 215 patients with depression or anxiety either into groups of ten that participated in sessions on mindfulness or that were given individual treatment with cognitive behavioural therapy.

Each of these participants was also required to carry out a personal training programme and later make note of this activity in a diary. The treatment lasted eight weeks.

Both before and after this treatment the participants answered questions about how serious they felt their depression or anxiety was.

Alternative to individual treatment

All noted a reduction in anxiety and depression during the course of the treatment, regardless of which type they had engaged in.

“The study indicates that group treatment in mindfulness, carried out by a certified instructor in the primary health services, is a treatment that is as effective as individual cognitive therapy when it comes to depression and anxiety,” said Jan Sundquist in a press release. Sundquist is the first author of the study.

Sundquist suggests that public health services ought to consider mindfulness as an alternative treatment, especially when not all patients can be offered individual treatment.


Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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