'Mindfulness' lifts depression for many, but not all

Mindfulness, a central concept in yoga and various forms of meditation, has proven to be effective against depression, but difficult to grasp for a significant number of people who try it, according to a University of Calgary researcher.

In a recent study of people at risk for relapse in clinical depression, PhD candidate Alisa Singer found that 40 per cent of them could not apply the concept of mindfulness to their own thinking. Mindfulness is the practice of simply being aware of thoughts and emotions, rather than getting caught up in them or analyzing their meaning.

“Mindfulness helps people step back and recognize that the negative thoughts they are having on a given issue are simply thoughts and may or may not be true,” Singer says. “By acknowledging and accepting such uncomfortable feelings, our research has found that negative moods will dissipate more quickly.”

Singer says that the people in her study who weren’t able to master the concept of being accepting of their own thoughts shared similar traits: they tended to be more anxious; were more worried about their ability to maintain relationships; were less likely to say that their experience with depression made them stronger; and were more likely to think that ruminating about an issue was a better strategy for dealing with it.

People who ruminate analyze their problems over and over without reaching any satisfactory conclusion. Ruminators tend to be more likely to suffer a depressive relapse than people who distract themselves with other activities, or those who practice mindfulness.

“In the last five years, mindfulness has become an important therapeutic tool,” Singer says. “Research shows that people who are taught to be mindful are less likely to suffer a depressive relapse, so it’s important to understand how to make it accessible to everyone.” It may be that some people simply require more training and practice before they can benefit, she adds.

Clinical depression goes well beyond occasionally feeling down in the dumps. Some of its symptoms include feeling sad most of the day nearly every day for at least two weeks; losing interest in life and activities that once provided joy; feeling worthless; experiencing disturbances in sleep and appetite; and having thoughts of suicide. Those who have experienced one depressive episode are 50 per cent more likely to have another, and the risk for relapse increases with each additional episode.

In her study, Singer tested 65 people who had been previously diagnosed with clinical depression. They were trained in mindfulness, and then asked to talk about their thought processes while experiencing a sad memory.

http://www.ucalgary.ca

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