Have you felt depressed? Here’s how mindfulness might help you

Dr Meera Joshi
Mindfulness expert for Bupa UK
19 December 2017

There has been a huge increase in the amount of scientific research into mindfulness-based practices. This is because they can help people struggling with a range of mental health issues, including work-related stress and anxiety. This article focuses on mindfulness and depression.

If you haven’t heard of mindfulness before, take a look at my mindfulness explained video to help get you started. In short, mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment. This can help you develop awareness of the things around you, and in turn your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations.

Can mindfulness help treat depression?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is an organisation that recommends therapies based on the best scientific evidence available. NICE recommend mindfulness for the treatment of recurrent depression. Specifically, they recommend an approach called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). For more information on the evidence for mindfulness and depression, see below.

What does this mean for me?

An average episode of depression usually lasts between six and eight months. If after a period of feeling better, you relapse and your symptoms come back, this is known as recurrent depression. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a type of mindfulness practice that is used alongside other treatments to help people who’ve had three or more relapses of depression. The idea is that mindfulness helps you acknowledge, step back from, and watch the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that can contribute to your low mood. As you practise the skill of mindfulness you can learn to let these thoughts pass rather than getting caught up in them.

Is there any evidence?

But what’s the evidence when it comes to mindfulness and depression? A large study, often referred to as the PREVENT trial, showed that MBCT is as effective as antidepressant medication in preventing further relapses in recurrent depression. In other words, if you are taking antidepressants to prevent another episode of depression, practising MBCT could be just as effective.

What does treatment with MBCT involve?

MBCT courses are provided by the NHS, so your GP may refer you if they think it’s appropriate. A course lasts for eight weeks, with a two-hour session per week led by a trained MBCT practitioner. There could be anything between eight and fifteen people in the group. A typical session will involve practical mindfulness exercises and opportunities for you to reflect on your experiences. MBCT sessions will also help you understand how your mind works when you’re feeling low. After each session you’ll be given some exercises to practise at home.

I’m depressed; can mindfulness help me with my depression now?

Some studies suggest that mindfulness (MBCT) may well help to treat people who currently have depression. However, this requires further research and approval from NICE. At the moment, NICE specifically recommend MBCT if you have had depression in the past and are at risk of developing it again.

What do I do next?

If you think that you, or someone you know may be suffering from depression, it’s important to get help. If you feel that any of the above may apply to you, please do contact your GP. They’ll be able to help and see if MBCT might be suitable for you.

Want to know more about mindfulness? Take a look at the following blogs:

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Dr Meera Joshi
Dr Meera Joshi
Mindfulness expert for Bupa UK

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