Meditation works just as well as antidepressants, according to a new study.

Research published by scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore revealed that meditating for just half an hour a day can relieve depression as much as antidepressants.

Meditation, which has a long history in Eastern traditions, is one of many ‘mindfulness’ techniques that has grown in popularity in the West over the last few decades.

Study leader Dr Madhav Goyal, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, said: “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programmes approach this in different ways.”

He added that meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as antidepressants.

There has been a big rise in the use of antidepressants in the last 20 years, and it is estimated that at least one in four people in the UK have fallen prey to depression or anxiety at some point in their lives. However antidepressants come with a catalogue of side-effects, which include suicidal feelings, excessive anger and addiction.

NHS guidelines recommend talking therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), in preference to drugs for people with mild to moderate depression.

Studies show psychological therapies can be as effective as drugs in tackling common mental health problems, and are often more successful in the long term.

Scientists found that an eight week training programme in mindfulness can help to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain much more effectively than pills.

Mr Goyal added: “Meditation programmes appear to have an effect above and beyond the placebo.

‘Clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation programme could have in addressing psychological stress.”

However this fact has already been recognised by the NHS which, on their website promotes the benefits of mindfulness.

In some cases, doctors even advise patients to go on mindfulness courses instead of popping pills, but charities such as the Mental Health Foundation say that this should be more widespread.

It claims that just one in five GPs have access to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, a treatment approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). Its figures showed that a large majority of GPs (72 per cent) think mindfulness meditation would benefit the mental health of their patients.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Mindfulness-based therapy could be helping to prevent thousands of people from relapsing into depression every year. This would have huge benefits both socially and economically, making it a sensible treatment to be making available, even at a time when money is short within the NHS.

“Depression tends to come back for many people, with the odds of further bouts increasing each time. A single episode is serious enough but having the illness return year after year can have a devastating impact of people’s jobs, relationships, and their chances in life generally.”

His views were echoed by Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who said that both patients and Mental Health charities are increasingly seeking for alternatives to drugs.

He added: “Mindfulness-Based CBT is gaining an increasing evidence-base and should be offered to people with recurrent depression according to the recently updated NICE guidelines.”

The Mental Health Foundation figures revealed that (75 per cent) of GPs have prescribed medication to people with long term depression believing another treatment would have been more appropriate.

Nearly all (93 per cent) think there should be greater availability of other effective treatments for recurrent depression, in addition to medication.

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