Researchers at the newly founded Oxford Mindfulness Centre, part of the Oxford University Department of Psychiatry, are conducting exciting research to explore how the ancient practice of meditation may be combined with modern psychological therapy to help reduce risk of clinical depression. Recent research has shown that training in mindfulness meditation through an approach called "mindfulness-based cognitive therapy" (MBCT) can halve the chances of depression returning in people who have suffered many episodes of depression in the past and can even be as effective as continuing to take antidepressants.
Participants taking the course learn a number of different types of meditation over the 8 weekly classes and receive education on depression and how to prevent relapse. A participant who has taken the MBCT course in Oxford and featured on the recent BBC TV programme 'Alternative Therapies' said "I've been on medication for about 10 years and this is the first time I have been able to drop as low as I have, and I'm on lower than what's the normal lowest dose right now and to come down as far as I have is just amazing to me!".
Class teachers say that one way the treatment benefits people is helping them to live more in the moment, rather than be caught up in upsetting memories from the past or worries about the future. Carol, another participant from the programme who had suffered from recurrent depression said "It (MBCT) has stopped me from just living in my head with my thoughts and has given me a much better picture of what it's like to be alive."
The mindfulness programme has been adapted especially for people who are currently feeling well but feel vulnerable to becoming depressed again in the future and is equally suitable for people who are still taking antidepressants and those who are not. Researchers are now examining whether MBCT can be used to prevent recurrences of more severe, suicidal depression. The "Staying Well After Depression" study will also look in more detail at which aspects of the programme are most helpful, by comparing Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy with another treatment, called Cognitive Psycho-Education. This treatment, which is based on tried and tested Cognitive Therapy for depression, teaches the same skills as the mindfulness programme but does not require people to learn to meditate. The researchers expect both types of class to be helpful, but everyone is different and they are very interested to see who benefits most from learning through mindfulness meditation and who prefers the "chalk and talk" approach.
The first set of classes for this trial is currently underway and the feedback from participants in both groups has been very positive. The researchers are now hoping to contact people in the Bicester/Swindon /Reading/Wantage/Banbury/Abingdon area who think they might also be interested in taking part. The classes are not suitable for everyone, and require considerable effort, but they also have the potential to bring about great change. Professor Mark Williams, who developed the treatment, said 'We are on the brink of discovering really important things about how people can learn to stay well after depression. Our aim is to help people to find long-term freedom from the daily battle with their moods'.
People who have suffered from repeated episodes of depression, have felt suicidal in the past, and are now feeling well can contact Adele at the Staying Well research team for more information, either by calling 08000 836130 (freephone) or 01865 226468 (landline) or by emailing email@example.com. There is also more information on the study website www.staying-well.org.