Cognitive Therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in chronic depression

A study published today in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology concludes that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in controlling long-term depression.

I've had personal experience with MBCT. About ten years ago, my personal life hit a very low point that left me more than sad — I was paralyzed, weepy, unable to see the bright side of anything, listless, always tired. I recognized the symptoms of depression and spoke to a psychiatrist I knew. He recommended MBCT in the form of David D Burns's The Feeling Good Handbook. Despite its cheesy title, the book was just what I needed: a series of simple exercises that used empiricism (writing down what happened around you and how it made you feel, and what alternative explanations you could think of for others' behavior) to help change the habits of thought that led to the downward spiral. It wasn't long before the depression lifted, never to return (so far — and if it does, I know what I'll do).

I've never spoken in public about this before, but I have quietly passed on the book to many of my friends when it seemed needed, always with good results. So I'm not surprised to hear that this research ("led by Professor Willem Kuyken at the Mood Disorders Centre, University of Exeter, in collaboration with colleagues at the Centre for Economics of Mental Health (CEMH) at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, Peninsula Medical School, Devon Primary Care Trust and the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit") shows that MBCT works in cases of chronic, long-term depression. This is especially good news, since chronic depression (which runs in my family) is especially hard on the person experiencing it as well as those around her or him.

The holidays are prime-time for difficult emotions. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, know that it's not a sign of weakness or personal inadequacy. Help is simple, widely available and effective.

Professor Willem Kuyken of the University of Exeter said: "Anti-depressants are widely used by people who suffer from depression and that's because they tend to work. But, while they're very effective in helping reduce the symptoms of depression, when people come off them they are particularly vulnerable to relapse. MBCT takes a different approach – it teaches people skills for life. What we have shown is that when people work at it, these skills for life help keep people well."

Professor Kuyken continues: "Our results suggest MBCT may be a viable alternative for some of the 3.5 million people in the UK known to be suffering from this debilitating condition. People who suffer depression have long asked for psychological approaches to help them recover in the long-term and MBCT is a very promising approach. I think we have the basis for offering patients and GPs an alternative to long-term anti-depressant medication. We are planning to conduct a larger trial to put these results to the test and to examine how MBCT works."

Depression Treatment: Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy As Effective As Anti-depressant Medication, Study Suggests