Meditation vs Medication: What’s Better For Your Health?

Therapies based on mindfulness meditation are an equally effective alternative to antidepressants against relapse after depression, according to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

After a first depressive episode, relapses are very common. They concern at least half of the people who have suffered from depression. A probability that increases with each new depressive episode. To prevent them, antidepressants are the reference treatment but the side effects are consequent: dependence, drowsiness, diarrhea, dizziness, tremors…

meditation vs medication

Derived from Buddhism

In fact, many patients do not tolerate these treatments. Some simply want to stop them and turn to gentler techniques such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Meditation vs medication is a technique derived from Buddhism that can be practiced anywhere at any time of the day. It consists of focusing one’s mind on the thoughts and sensations felt in the present moment.

A serious alternative.

“Ten years ago, the idea of meditation seemed esoteric. Today, caregivers and patients see mindfulness as an alternative,” explains Françoise Jermann, a psychologist at the University Hospitals of Geneva, where this approach has been used for the past 10 years as a complement to drug treatments.

Since its invention by the American Jon Kabat-Zin, numerous studies have shown that the followers of this technique were less anxious and that the symptoms of non-severe depression had improved. However, no study had shown that these benefits were comparable to those provided by antidepressants. Which gives an inconclusive response to the question meditation vs medication?


for millions of people

This is why a team of British researchers from Oxford University tested the effectiveness of meditation vs medication. More than 420 people participated in the study. All of them had already experienced several depressive episodes and had been taking antidepressants for at least two years. The participants were then randomly divided into two groups: one in which the participants gradually stopped their treatments and followed meditation sessions, and the other in which the patients continued their treatment.

After two years, the researchers found that relapse rates in the two groups were roughly similar (44% in the meditation group versus 47% for the others). “Although the study does not show that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy works better than antidepressants in reducing relapse, we believe these results offer an alternative for the millions of people suffering from recurrent depressive episodes,” says Willem Kuyken, lead author of the study and professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University.


Mindfulness meditation

Therapies based on “mindfulness meditation” are an “alternative” as effective as standard treatments with antidepressants against relapse of depression.

Meditating and focusing on the present moment is as effective as medication in preventing relapse after depression. Mindfulness meditation” consists of focusing one’s mind, thoughts, and sensations on the present moment. This technique would be an effective alternative to antidepressants, according to a study published Tuesday in the medical journal The Lancet. For this study, 400 patients were followed for two years and both treatments, i.e. meditation and antidepressants, proved to be equally effective.

Relapses analyzed. It is estimated that at least half of all people who have suffered from depression will have at least one relapse in their lifetime if they do not take preventive treatment. The risk is increased in the two years following depression and in people who have had several depressive episodes. Until now, these “maintenance treatments” with long-term antidepressants are the reference treatment, recommended for all people at risk of relapse.

But a meditation technique called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has also proven to be effective in preventing relapses. Several clinical trials have already shown that this technique “significantly reduces” the risk of relapse, but no experimentation has yet allowed for a real comparison of its effectiveness compared to conventional treatment with antidepressants.

More than 400 patients followed for two years. A group of British researchers, therefore, tested the two types of treatment in parallel to find out whether meditation could be an “alternative for people wishing to stop taking antidepressants”. The team led by Willem Kuyken, professor of psychology at the University of Oxford, tested the effectiveness of meditation compared to antidepressants in a “double-blind” trial. A method that allows for a rigorous comparison of two treatments.

424 patients who had suffered at least three major depressive episodes in the past were treated either with meditation or with antidepressants. At the end of a follow-up of more than two years, both “treatments” proved to be “positive” in preventing or delaying relapses. The superiority of meditation vs medication in terms of effectiveness and cost has not been established, however, the study reveals.

“An effective alternative”. However, the authors believe that “this study, added to previous work, provides strong evidence for the effectiveness” of mindfulness meditation “for patients who want an alternative” to antidepressants. An independent psychiatrist in this study, Dr. Roger Mulder, from the University of Otago in Christchurch, New Zealand, also believes that mindfulness-based therapy is an “effective alternative” for those who “cannot tolerate” antidepressants.

A convincing result of mindfulness meditation

At the end of a follow-up of more than two years, both “treatments” proved to be “positive” in avoiding or delaying relapses but without establishing the superiority of one method over the other, in terms of effectiveness and cost. However, the authors believe that “this study, added to previous work, provides strong evidence for the effectiveness” of mindfulness meditation “for patients who want an alternative” vs medication.

Medication vs meditation

Mindfulness meditation: 4 exercises to get started

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the present moment voluntarily and without judgment. This ability has been associated with benefits against stress, anxiety, and depression.

Mindfulness can be integrated into daily life, but you will be better able to do it if you practice it more formally through exercises.

Here are some simple exercises to get started with this practice:

Pay attention to your breathing

Choose a time when you have 10 minutes and find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Bring your attention to your breathing as you inhale.

Notice the sensation at the tip of your nose as air enters your body. Continue to breathe normally. Notice the expansion of your lungs as they fill with air and their contraction as you exhale. Continue to observe the movement of your breath in this way for 10 minutes.

The first few times you practice, you may find that you spend a lot of time lost in thought rather than focused on your breathing. It is simply a matter of noticing these inner distractions and refocusing. You can lose focus and bring your attention back to many things in a matter of minutes. With practice, you will probably find that you maintain your focus longer and are less distracted by the thoughts and emotions that arise.

Observe your thoughts

This involves taking a position of observer of the thoughts that arise and disappear in your mind.

Being fully aware of one’s thoughts is different from the normal way of reacting or being caught up in them. It is simply observing the thoughts and images that pass by. When you happen to be caught up in the thoughts themselves, it is simply a matter of noting that you have been thinking. If your thoughts consisted of a negative monologue (doom and gloom or blame), simply note that.

By doing this, you are present again and can make the choice to quietly withdraw from those thoughts and continue to observe.

This exercise reinforces the experience that thoughts are simply ephemeral mental formations that come and go, that you don’t need to join, and that you have the ability to control your mind.

Observe your emotions

Like thoughts, emotions come and go. While for many people it may be more difficult to observe emotions than thoughts without being captured by them, a facilitating strategy can be to name them, which can lead to expanding one’s vocabulary and ability to distinguish between different types of emotions. Better identification of emotions is an ability that promotes better resolution of different situations.

Paying attention to the sensations of the present moment

Taking a walk, taking a shower, having a snack… are all opportunities to practice mindfulness. It is about paying attention to the various sensations and perceptions of the experience, becoming aware of the mind wandering, and then refocusing your attention on the sensations and perceptions of the present moment.

Rapid effects

This opinion is also shared in France by Christophe André, who works at Sainte-Anne, in the first university department to implement this technique, eleven years ago. Mindfulness meditation has the advantage of being effective fairly quickly (after 2 to 3 weeks), and is non-medicated, which is advantageous for pregnant women or many patients who prefer to do without chemicals,” says the hospital practitioner. On the other hand, it implies constraints such as the adoption of a new lifestyle (taking a break when things aren’t going well, savoring moments of well-being), a bit like sticking to a diet or daily physical exercise.” Mindfulness meditation, whose effectiveness has now been proven, should be the subject of official recommendations by French health authorities.

We’re always looking for ways to make the world a better place and we need your help. If you want to be part of our mission, share this post with friends or family on social media! We really appreciate all that support!

Your shares and likes are what keep us going, thank you for being here today! ❤

Meditation vs Medication – Related Post:  

Leave a Comment