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How To Prevent Depression Relapse Without Antidepressants

depression relapse

Four out of five people with depression will relapse at some point without treatment.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is as effective at preventing depression relapse as antidepressants, a new study finds.

Professor Willem Kuyken, the study’s lead author, said:

“Depression is a recurrent disorder.

Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point.”

People in the study were adults suffering from recurrent major depression.

Half of over 400 participants came off their antidepressant medication and did the therapy instead.

The other half remained on the medication.

Professor Richard Byng, study co-author, said:

“Currently, maintenance antidepressant medication is the key treatment for preventing relapse, reducing the likelihood of relapse or recurrence by up to two-thirds when taken correctly.

However, there are many people who, for a number of different reasons, are unable to keep on a course of medication for depression.

Moreover, many people do not wish to remain on medication for indefinite periods, or cannot tolerate its side effects.”

People in the mindfulness-based therapy group had around 20 hours of training along with home practice and follow-up sessions.

They were taught the principles of mindfulness along with other psychological exercises.

After two years, both groups had similar rates of depression relapse.

In the mindfulness group 44% had relapsed and in the antidepressant group 47% had relapsed.

Professor Kuyken said:

“Whilst this study doesn’t show that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy works any better than maintenance antidepressant medication in reducing the rate of relapse in depression, we believe these results suggest a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions.”

One of the study’s participants, Mr Nigel Reed, explained the benefits of the mindfulness intervention:

“Mindfulness gives me a set of skills which I use to keep well in the long term.

Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well.”

Professor Roger Mulder, commenting on the study in The Lancet, said:

“Because it is a group treatment that reduces costs and the number of trained staff needed, it might be feasible to offer [mindfulness-based cognitive therapy] as a choice to patients in general practice…

We therefore have a promising new treatment that is reasonably cost effective and applicable to the large group of patients with recurrent depression.”

The study was published in The Lancet (Kuyken et al., 2015).

Image credit: Brandon Warren