A paper published in December's Archives of General Psychiatry journal (Canada) states that certain forms of meditation are as effective as maintenance antidepressant pharmacotherapy for treating patients with recurrent depression.
Researchers concluded after a randomised controlled trial that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was a good treatment option following a study of 160 patients aged 18-65 with a major depressive disorder with at least two past episodes.
Of the cohort, about half had achieved remission following eight months of antidepressant treatment and were subsequently assigned to one of three study conditions. Patients either discontinued their antidepressants and attended eight weekly group sessions of MBCT, continued taking their therapeutic dose of antidepressant medication, or discontinued active medication and were switched to placebo.
Relapse rates were lower in patients on MBCT and therapy, who were 27% less likely to relapse than those on placebo, although this difference did not reach statistical significance.
Dr Zindel Segal, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Toronto, concluded: 'Our data highlight the importance of maintaining at least one active long-term treatment in recurrently depressed patients whose remission is unstable. For those unwilling or unable to tolerate maintenance antidepressant treatment, MBCT offers equal protection from relapse during an 18-month period.'
MBCT was approved by NICE in 2004 guidance on depression, although a survey published by the Mental Health Foundation published last January showed that only a fifth of 250 GP respondents had access to this therapy. In the same survey, 70 per cent of GPs said meditation techniques recommended by NICE could help patients with mental health problems.