The effectiveness of mindfulness to "treat" depression

21 April 2015

Given the impact of mental health problems, both on individuals and society more widely, it is important that there is an increased focus on preventative measures, including mindfulness.

To this end, research by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, published in the Lancet today, on the effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared with maintenance antidepressant treatment in the prevention of depressive relapse or recurrence, is welcome. An increased evidence base for the positive impact mindfulness can have for some people is helpful, and are more broadly any measures that are identified to help to maintain good mental health. 

However, it is important to caution that we must be careful not to oversell the impact of mindfulness or other preventative measures. Some newspaper headlines on the research have implied that mindfulness has been proven to be as effective as medication in 'treating' depression. Mindfulness advocates will be the first to clarify that the practice it is not a panacea, that it will work for some but not all, and it is a preventative measure not a cure.

Dr Iris Elliott Head of Policy and Research at the Mental Health Foundation says: "The media reports today are slightly skewed in that in some quarters it is being seen as a way to treat depression.  This is not the case: what this research shows is the effectiveness of mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in terms of prevention or recurrence.

"Be that as it may, it is good to see mental health being talked about in a more positive way and that more and more people are beginning to take an interest in what they can do to maintain good mental health. As mindfulness is the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week this year (11-17 May) we look forward to more discussion of this important area."