A two-year clinical study of mindfulness as a treatment of depression found it to be slightly more effective than prescription drugs in preventing a recurrence of depression. This was a major study with 500 participants, and its conclusions are as credible as those that support any treatment for depression. Stories at The Telegraph and Guardian, respectively:
Mindfulness training might have been better than drugs in this study, but it was still a hit-or-miss proposition, working well barely half the time. Mindfulness might be preferred over drugs because of its lower cost and lower incidence of side effects, which for antidepressant drugs can include drastic weight gain and, less commonly, suicide. It is encouraging that mindfulness worked, but what is more interesting is the reason it worked. Apparently its success comes by making people more able to shift their focus away from depressing thoughts.
With less time spent on negative evaluations, worries, and self-doubt, patients were less likely to fall into depression. It could be that the origin of depression is often as simple as a persistent focus on negative thoughts. To the extent that this is so, it offers hope for a wider range of treatment and prevention built on other focus-shifting techniques. Maybe an approach can be found that cures depression most of the time. In an area where trial and error is the best science has to offer, that would be revolutionary.