It is hard not to observe that the concept of “mindfulness” is currently very popular. According to Miriam-Webster Dictionary, mindfulness is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” The term is often used in reference to relaxation, meditation, everyday behaviors, and stress reduction. It has been used therapeutically to bring about symptom relief and the practice of mindfulness has been associated with changes inside the brain.
A just-published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association is getting a lot of attention right now, and rightfully so. This paper reports the findings of a meta-analysis (a study analyzing results from multiple studies on the same topic, statistically controlling for variables that may also partially explain the findings) looking at the prolonged outcomes of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. The meta-analysis has found that for individuals treated for depression, manualized mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has at least as favorable of a relapse-prevention rate (if not better) than that for other traditional treatments for depression, including pharmacotherapy. There were 9 randomized controlled trials included in the study, analyzing data from over 1300 individuals who have been treated for depression. Relapse was assessed by 60 weeks post-study follow-up. Results suggest that the effectiveness of MBCT may be even stronger for those treated for more severe depression.
This study has a lot of implications. For those who seek treatment for depression, learning mindfulness help prevent a relapse in depression at least as well as other well-empirically-validated therapies. Individuals treated with MBCT are learning new skills that provide tools for fighting depression. From neuroscience, we have seen a host of other studies that are using imaging to explore how the practice of mindfulness alters our brains. Though rigorous research exploring exactly how the brain is altered is in early stages, reviews and meta-analyses suggest that various brain regions are altered by the practice of mindfulness (with the region being associated with the type of mindfulness being practiced). Thus, these findings have implications of how neuroanatomy can be affected by mindfulness in the promotion of mood maintenance.
Reference: Kuyken W, Warren FC, Taylor RS, et al. Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Prevention of Depressive Relapse: An Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis From Randomized Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online April 27, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0076.