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Mindfulness and depression

Everyone can feel a bit low from time to time; this is a normal part of life and nothing to be unduly alarmed about. While sadness is normal, however, some people experience an extreme form of despair and hopelessness over a period of time, which may be a sign of depression.

Depression is a debilitating illness that can strike at any age and more than once. Some people experience reactive depression in response to a life-changing event, such as bereavement; others have recurring spells of negative thoughts and feelings apparently unrelated to their experiences but which can be extremely stressful, occasionally leading to suicidal thoughts and actions. Help is at hand, though, and people experiencing major depressive disorder (MDD) often turn to a psychological therapy known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for help.

Essentially, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) teaches people to recognise patterns of behaviour and thinking that have a negative effect on them, and to acknowledge and accept these thoughts – be mindful of them – but not to react to them. The technique has been found to be effective at dispelling unhelpful thoughts and reducing relapses into depression by up to fifty per cent, so it is a very powerful ally for many sufferers of depression.

Reflecting on negative thoughts interrupts the automatic processes associated with following through with them. In effect, CBT helps individuals to alter the relationship between their behaviour, their thoughts, any physiological changes they experience and their feelings. Structured sessions with a qualified therapist usually include the chance for people to express their concerns and problems, and to agree a set of goals with their therapist.

Although the time taken to complete MBCT sessions varies, in most cases ‘homework’ between sessions includes guided meditations and practising mindfulness on a day-to-day basis. In this sense, the patient is being taught to intervene in their own thought processes in order to reduce their vulnerability to destructive conditions, such as depression.

Source of statistical information: Teasdale, J. D. (2004) Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Replication and Exploration of Differential Relapse Prevention Effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72 (1), 31–40.

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Michele McCulley is an accredited member of the BACP

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