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How many times have you heard “if you had a headache, you’d take a painkiller” in response to concerns about taking antidepressants?
While antidepressant pills are an effective medication for ailments such as stress and anxiety disorders, results published from a randomised clinical trial led by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Centre showed that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (‘MBSR’) is just as effective as the commonly prescribed anti-depressant drug Escitalopram.
The trial involved 270 people, all of whom had a diagnosed anxiety disorder and were not receiving treatment. Participants were randomly assigned to either an Escitalopram programme or a MBSR programme. Both groups were taught techniques such as body scanning, stretching and movement and breathing awareness, which prove to be useful in preventing relapse in the future.
After eight weeks, both groups saw their anxiety symptoms drop by around 30%, with further drops after 3 months.
Mindfulness does not prove to be superior to medication but Dr Elizabeth Hoge, the director of the trial, hopes that the findings can open up new treatment options with meditation – where appropriate – prescribed in place of antidepressant pills, which can cause unpleasant side effects such as insomnia, headaches, nausea and fatigue.
While the results of the clinical trial sound very promising, it’s important to note that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is not for everyone. It requires a lot of time investment in order to complete the full sessions, as well as adherence to daily practice. Only a quarter of the participants continued pursuing the programme after 6 months, and some did not find it helpful at all and asked to take Escitalopram instead.
However, Dr Hoge further praises mindfulness and meditation due to their accessibility, with many apps available at the touch of a button and sessions taking place remotely via video call. Furthermore, you do not need a prescription to practice meditation as you would with medication and it can be done without medical supervision.