Meditation therapy at least as good as antidepressants for preventing relapses in depression

Person meditating on a lakeA recent trial in Exeter found that Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is at least as good as antidepressants at preventing relapses in depression, according to an article in Times Online. Other studies have found lower relapse rates in depression between groups of people who receive MBCT and groups who don’t.

MBCT is so good at preventing depression that a report by the Mental Health Foundation in Britain calls for much wider use of “mindfulness” treatment – a combination of meditation with orthodox “thought training”.

MBCT trains people to focus their attention on one thing instead of thinking about issues, the past, future and other distractions. There are various ways to do this, such as focusing on breathing, and what we feel while we are moving.

Meditation is inexpensive and recommended by mental health professionals for depression. When combined with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), meditation is better than CBT alone for preventing depression.

What are some benefits of MBCT?
What evidence is there that meditation helps prevent depression?
What do health experts say about meditation for depression?
How can we do mindfulness meditation?
How long and how often should we meditate for?
Besides MBCT, what other types of meditation help treat depression?
What are some tips for meditating?

What are some benefits of MBCT?

  • Medication does not help prevent relapses in depression. The National Health Service (NHS) in Britain claims MBCT might halve depression relapse rates.
  • Research has shown that including meditation therapy for treating depression works better at preventing recurrent depression than relying on cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) alone.
  • Patients are treated in groups of up to 20, so the cost can be much lower than one-to-one CBT.
  • MBCT can increase activity in a part of the brain linked to positive emotion that is often suppressed in people with depression. Regular meditation strengthens areas of the brain linked with happiness and relaxation, and weakens parts involved with stress and negativity.

What evidence is there that meditation helps prevent depression?

A study of MBCT 10 years ago had a 37% relapse rate for patients given MBCT compared with 66% for those not given the treatment. A 2004 study found an even bigger difference between the two groups, with relapse rates of 36% and 78%.

A recent trial in Exeter, with results published in 2009, found that MBCT is at least as good at preventing relapses as antidepressants.

More than 100 studies, some involving Buddhist monks, have shown that brainwave activity changes during meditation, and that areas of the brain linked to controlling emotion are bigger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.

What do health experts say about meditation for depression?

Mark Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, said that meditative therapy enabled people to switch off “brooding recrimination” and, while acknowledging these thoughts, move beyond them.

“People begin to see thoughts and feelings as a temporary weather pattern in the mind, and realise they don’t have to judge themselves,” he said.

Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said that doctors prescribed antidepressants too often. “Mindfulness-based therapy could help prevent thousands of people from relapsing into depression every year. This would have huge knock-on benefits both socially and economically, making it a sensible treatment to make available, even at a time when money is short within the NHS,” he said.

Jonty Heaversedge is a South London GP who learnt to meditate at a Buddhist centre. He believes meditation can improve many aspects of health. Heaversedge said:

Depression is something that affects a huge number of my patients, often year after year, with devastating consequences. MBCT gives them the opportunity to develop a healthier, more accepting relationship with their thoughts and feelings.

Visit The Times and the Mental Health Foundation to read more.

How can we do mindfulness meditation? says mindfulness meditation is being fully in the present moment, without analyzing or “over-thinking” about it. Rather than thinking about the past or future, mindfulness meditation focuses on what’s happening now.

Here are two mindfulness meditation techniques in

    Walking meditation. You don’t have to be seated or still to meditate. In walking meditation, mindfulness involves focussing on what you feel with each step — your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and feeling the wind in your face.

    Mindful eating. If you eat when you’re stressed or in a rush, try eating mindfully instead. Sit down at the table and focus your full attention on the meal. Don’t watch TV, read or have a conversation. Eat slowly and take the time to fully enjoy and concentrate on each bite.

    Mindfulness meditation is not “zoning-out”. We must make an effort to bring our concentration back to the present moment when our mind starts to drift-off.

    How long and how often should we meditate for?

    Regular meditation is key to help beat depression. A one-off meditation will bring little, if any, long-term gain. Daily meditation is best, but a few times a week is better than none.

    Regular mini meditations of 10 minutes each session can bring us some benefit, but at least 15 to 20 minutes a session is better. Meditating a few times a day can bring us even greater results.

    Besides MBCT, what other types of meditation help treat depression?

    In April 2010 the Med Guru reported that Transcendental Meditation (TM) can help ease depression.

    Sanford Nidich led a study of TM at the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management. He said:

    “Clinically meaningful reductions in depressive symptoms were associated with practice of the Transcendental Meditation program.

    The findings of the studies have important implications for improving mental health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.”

    The University of California in Los Angeles and University of Hawaii in Kohala recently researched TM. Their studies involved 112 people, 55 years and older, at risk of heart disease.

    The studies compared TM with health education for depression for a year. The TM technique involved repeating a mantra for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day to help relax. A mantra is a repeated word or phrase. The control group followed a health education program twice a day for 20 minutes.

    Patients in both the studies that did the meditation therapy had improved in depressive symptoms.

    The full benefits of meditation were observed in patients at risk of developing heart disease within three months. Over the course of the study, the depressive symptoms fell by about a third.

    Previous research has found that TM cuts the chances of a heart attack in patients with heart disease, and reduces blood pressure, eases pain, and helps treat sleep problems, fatigue and anxiety.

    What are some tips for meditating?

    Paul Fenton-Smith has many insights into meditation in his book A Secret Door to the Universe – A Guide to Spiritual Development. Below are a few insights that I feel are especially interesting and worth quoting.

    Without regular mediation or replenishment of the spirit, what level of inner peace and fulfilment can you expect? What use is physical, emotional and mental wealth if you are spiritually impoverished?

    At first, meditation requires great discipline. Many initial attempts are marked by fidgeting, restlessness and mental distractions. Focusing upon a lighted candle can reduce the mind’s tendency to wander, and help to still the body.

    There may be many days of poor or average meditations before you experience a spiritual connection during the process. When you experience this, the energy and feelings you experience may surprise you.

    In simple terms, your act of repeatedly sitting and meditating is a signal to your spirit that you are prepared to listen and take time to develop it. In time, your emotional and mental energies align with your spirit, even if only temporarily, and you become centred, peaceful and at one with yourself.

    The energy is so pure that you may laugh or cry with joy. You may experience a flood of energy upon centring yourself, and this is worth the effort you put in. Once you achieve centeredness, it is relatively easy to find it again in subsequent mediations because you have a memory of what it feels like.

    … Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.”

    – Buddha

    written by Nyomi Graef

    Easing Anxiety with Calming Techniques, n.d.,,

    Fenton-Smith, P, 1999, A Secret Door to the Universe: A Guide to Spiritual Development, East Roseville, Australia: Simon & Schuster

    Lister, S, 2010, GPs should prescribe meditation for depression, says Mental Health Foundation, The Times,

    Meditation and Depression, 2002, ABC,

    Meditation must be available on the NHS, says Mental Health Foundation, 2010, Mental Health Foundation,

    Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief, n.d.,,

    Sabharwal, N, 2010, Transcendental Meditation an effective way to ease depression, the MedGuru,

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One Response to “Meditation therapy at least as good as antidepressants for preventing relapses in depression”

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