Is Mindfulness the Most Effective Depression Treatment in the World? – Melli O’Brien
For the last few decades, medical science put more and more focus on SSRIs*, TCAs**, MAOIs***, better known as antidepressants.
Because of how prevalent these medications are, many people don’t realize that there is another treatment option.
Antidepressants are so common that many wouldn’t even believe that this other option can be just as effective for many depression sufferers.
In fact, it’s been drilled in our heads for so long that treating depression requires some kind of chemical. Some would find it very hard to believe that this other treatment option is completely natural, non-invasive, has no side effects and is even safe enough for pregnant women.
What’s even more amazing to a lot of people is that this treatment is not new at all. It has been around for millennia. You may know it as mindfulness.
Depression- An Epidemic
The number of people suffering from depression is staggering. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 14 million people suffer from major depressive disorders, which are the leading cause of disability in the United States for people between the ages of 15 and 44 (1).
That’s just major depression—that doesn’t include the numerous lives suffering under the stress of moderate or minor depression. It doesn’t even include people who are not clinically depressed, but going through a bout of depression due to life’s circumstances.
Problem with Chemical Treatment
SSRIs have been the standard treatment offered to patients suffering from depression. Even worse, many family doctors prescribe antidepressants before doing preliminary diagnostic testing to determine if SSRIs are even necessary (2).
Taking these types of medications can be necessary for some people, but should never be taken lightly by the doctor or the patient.
Side effects range from minor discomforts such as dry mouth and headache to health threats such as weight gain and anxiety. Side effects such as sleep disruption, sedation and loss of libido can really interfere with your quality of life as well (3).
Current Research Questions Effectiveness of Antidepressants
Antidepressants are being viewed by more and more doctors with suspicion, as recent studies are not showing them to be nearly as effective as many people think. In mild to moderate depression, they barely perform better than placebos.
Further, because they continue to alter brain chemistry, any beneficial effects patients may derive from them can sometimes be temporary.
The type of antidepressant and dosage is frequently in need of fine-tuning and tweaking which puts patients through a lot of ups and downs rather than on the steady incline to good mental health (4).
Another problem with antidepressants is that people can neglect to take them, fail to have prescriptions refilled or may be unable to obtain them if they lose their medical insurance coverage. For these people, any progress antidepressants may have helped them make ceases and recidivism is the usual outcome.
Mindfulness—The Other Antidepressant
There is hope for people who are just tired of the expense, the side effects, the chemicals and the constant ebb and flow of symptoms with antidepressant meds.
This hope is actually something brought to us more than 3,000 years ago by Buddhist monks: mindfulness, a form of meditative awareness that helps one focus on the moment and examine one’s thoughts and feelings objectively.
One study done at Oxford found that patients who practiced mindfulness in addition to their usual treatment reported that their symptoms decreased from severe to mild, while those who did not practice mindfulness did not experience change (5).
Practicing mindfulness has even reduced recidivism rates. A study by Zindel V. Segal, Ph.D. found that those patients in remission who practiced mindfulness were less likely to relapse than those taking antidepressant medications (6).
More Than Just a Feel-Good Effect
In the past, many had written off mindfulness as New Age concept for hippies and gurus. Fortunately, scientists persisted with research and have begun to unlock the potential of mindfulness practices—and the discoveries are beyond what any hippie or guru could have ever dreamed.
Mindfulness does more than just teach you to redirect your attention; it actually changes the way your brain works (7). According to Dr. Michael Baime, “Meditation practice is associated with changes of specific brain areas that are essential for attention, learning, and the regulation of emotion.”
Neuroscientists conducted experiments on Buddhist monks to try and find out if there was a real difference between the brains of those who meditate and those who don’t. Monks gladly cooperated.
The results were beyond what anyone even expected. Neuro-imaging scans show visible, measurable, physical differences between the minds of meditators and the minds of people who don’t meditate.
More amazingly, the differences were not just in the scans they took of secluded Tibetan monks who had logged 10,000 hours of meditation, but changes also occurred in average people after just a few weeks of practicing meditation.
What the Future Holds
Studies like the ones mentioned above have spurred more interest in mindfulness, and continued research is under way. As of yet, the benefits of mindfulness just keep being reinforced.
For the millions of depressed people world-wide, this brings a new era of hope in dealing with their debilitating condition. Looking forward, the question becomes, how do we bring mindfulness to the masses?
A lot of people have never heard of mindfulness or are ignorant of the research that shows it to be an effective treatment option. It’s important that more doctors educate themselves on mindfulness so they’re able to explain it as an option and offer it to patients.
It’s equally important to get the word out to people who suffer from depression, so they’re informed of all viable options and not automatically handed a prescription.
Because we live in the information age, further information on mindfulness is just a few clicks away from anyone with access to a computer.
For those suffering from depression, taking the time to research mindfulness and learn some basic techniques (with a qualified teacher) can be a life-altering occasion, if not life-saving.
Please feel free to share your own wisdom, experience, questions & comments below. Maybe you could pass this on to any loved ones you might know who can benefit from this knowledge.
*selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
***monoamine oxidase inhibitors