A new study has found that techniques of meditation, and in particular practicing mindfulness, can help towards lessening depression, anxiety and pain, and can be just as effective as medication in doing so.
Researchers from The John Hopkins University in Baltimore reviewed data from 47 clinical trials involving over 3,500 patients with a range of mental health and other health conditions, finding moderate evidence suggesting that as much as 30 minutes of meditation a day helped improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, with the same amount of relief being provided by meditation as had previously been discovered in studies examining the effects of antidepressants on the conditions.
Writing in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, lead researcher of the study Dr Madhav Goyal explained that meditation techniques emphasise mindfulness and concentration, allowing people to pay attention to whatever thoughts enter the mind and focus on the surrounding environment. Dr Goyal said:
“Many people have the idea that meditation means just sitting quietly and doing nothing. That is not true. It is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”
Though the study showed smaller levels of positive evidence indicating that meditation reduces stress and improves overall quality of life, the researchers are urging that medical professionals be more open in talking to patients about the role meditation and mindfulness could have in helping with depression and anxiety, particularly as it has fewer side-effects than drugs. The analysis is being seen as an example of an area which requires further scientific study to take the evidence from being purely belief based.
The results of the study follow the argument from Chris Dowrick, Professor of Primary Medical Health Care at University of Liverpool, that antidepressants are being over-subscribed to people who do not require them. Writing in the British Medical Journal, the academic and GP says that patients who are sad or distressed are being wrongly diagnosed by a tendency to rely on medication. He states:
“These pills won’t work for people with mild depression, or who are sad – but they have side-effects and we are seeing patients become reliant on drugs they do not need.”
Dr Dowrick is one of the researchers involved in ‘An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being’ (2010), a study carried out in partnership between University of Liverpool, Liverpool Primary Care Trust and The Reader Organisation. The report investigated how shared reading impacted upon patients with depression, in terms of their social, mental, emotional and psychological well-being, with regular shared reading over a period of 12 months indicating statistically significant improvements in wellbeing. Our shared reading projects are commissioned by health services across the UK and emphasise the rich, varied and non-prescriptive qualities of literature in helping people to discover more about the human condition and their own lives and situations, to help them in feeling better and understanding more about themselves.
Rather than being an individual exercise, reading within a group offers a shared experience – a focusing and broadening of the mind that engages on a variety of levels, increasing confidence, providing self-reflection and self-awareness, improving wellbeing and building social networks. Shared reading is bringing all of these benefits to patients in mental health settings around the country, as well as in local community settings, with 74% of people saying that shared reading has improved their mood and 81% saying it has helped them to relax.
You can read more about shared reading within Health & Wellbeing settings on our website, as well as the full ‘An investigation into the therapeutic benefits of reading in relation to depression and well-being’ report: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research.aspx