Mindfulness Therapy Rivals Drugs for Treating Depression Relapse

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Canadian researchers conducted a study comparing standard antidepressant medication to cognitive therapy and placebo, finding the treatment rivals medication for preventing depression relapse. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) worked just as well as medications for a group of patients who have unstable remission after being treated for depression.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Compared to Antidepressants

The findings, reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found that teaching depressed patients to focus on that promote health such as Yoga and meditation removes focus on symptoms, leading to fewer relapses.

Out of a group of 166 patients, 84 had achieved remission and received mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, antidepressants or placebo.

The group chosen for cognitive behavioral therapy discontinued antidepressant medications and attended one group session for 8 weeks. During initial treatment, 51 percent were found to have depression relapse.


"Our findings indicated that the quality of remission achieved during the acute phase interacted with the type of prevention treatment patients received to determine relapse outcomes during the subsequent maintenance phase," the researchers wrote.

A comparison was then made between the three groups of unstable depression patients, showing cognitive based therapy worked as well as taking medication – specifically 28 percent for mindfulness therapy, 27 percent for antidepressant medications and 71 percent for placebo.

The authors write, "For patients whose acute-phase remission was marked by periodic symptom flurries”, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and antidepressants individually, “significantly lowered relapse/recurrence risk compared with discontinuation to placebo."

The researchers note, “Surprisingly, for patients whose acute-phase remission was stable, there was no differential effect on survival between the treatments we studied.”

The findings, according to the authors, emphasize the “importance maintaining at least 1 long-term active treatment in unstable remitters.” For patients who poorly tolerate antidepressants, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was found to work as well as medications to prevent depression relapse.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010;67(12):1256-1264. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.168