Welcome Skepticism on Mindfulness for Depression

The Lancet research study comparing antidepressant drugs and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has drawn oodles of coverage and commentary.

One common theme in media reports on the study runs something like, mindfulness meditation and antidepressant drugs work equally well, so people taking antidepressants should try meditation instead.

Two writers who suffer from depression and who have tried both drugs and mindfulness have responded skeptically. Both question this enthusiasm for mindfulness meditation and against drug therapy. Both articles are great reads.

When It Came to My Depression, Medicine Was More Effective Than Mindfulness
James Nolan, Vice

“Antidepressants certainly don’t cure anything, but they do provide breathing room and make life liveable, giving us enough perspective to make some changes. For me, mindfulness created a level of distortion, an unreasonable belief that I could control my illness with a philosophy.”

Mindfulness Isn’t a Depression Cure-All
Therese Borchard, Everyday Health

“I’m going to risk the backlash of readers and go against popular opinion when I say that I don’t think mindfulness is a cure-all for depression. It has gotten so much buzz lately that I fear that some severely depressed people out there may make the same mistake I did.”

Neither Nolan or Borchard reject mindfulness practice outright. Instead they recommend using many techniques for battling depression, with an emphasis on finding what works for you.

Nolan points out a prejudice against antidepressant drugs in much media reporting about depression. “People still build a stigma around antidepressants, too; ‘chemicals’ are taboo in relation to mental health, but OK in our food, drink and cosmetics. This contradiction has left many of us avoiding them for fear of seeming weak and impure.” This prejudice bugs the hell out of me too. Taking medicine to alleviate a debilitating, life-threatening condition is not weakness or cheating, and no one should feel pressured to use “natural cures” exclusively.

Note: the “welcome skepticism” in this post’s title should not be read as dismissal of mindfulness or MBCT. I use mindfulness meditation as one part of my own depression-fighting life plan. Skepticism just means careful examination of claims, assumptions and biases.


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