“For me mindfulness is like building a house, so the next time the tsunami that is depression comes I’ll have a structure in place to resist it.”- Ruby Wax

The Facts

Without help :  60% of people who experience a single episode of depression are likely to experience a second.

 90% of people who go through three episodes of depression are likely to have a fourth.

 The Science

Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness meditation may be at least as effective as medication.

research on the effect of mindfulness on depressive relapse 

During meditation the body releases many different mood enhancing hormones via neurotransmitters, such as Endorphins, Serotonin and Melatonin. These can help to lift your mood.

As well as meditation and exercise the release of these hormones through the neurotransmitters can also be temporarily achieved through sugar release into the bloodstream (carbohydrates release sugar) and chocolate. Which is why many people binge on these foods when they are feeling down.

Study on Effects of MBSR on depressive symptoms of women with Fibromyalgia

Downward Spiral

When someone suffers from depression, it usually begins with a negative thought, which then spirals downwards into a series of negative thoughts, which go over and over in the mind. For some people the spiral only goes a little way and then they come out of it again. But for people who are clinically depressed, the spiral goes much further down. In fact depression is probably one of the least understood diseases of all. Because everybody has felt ‘down’ at some point, often the people who have only experienced feeling a bit down, have no understanding of how it is for someone with a much deeper form of chronic depression.


Depression is a taboo illness and people with severe depression can be labelled as ‘lazy’,or ‘just feeling sorry for themselves’ and may be told to ‘pull themselves together’.This is upsetting for those who are experiencing depression, which can be an extremely debilitating illness. Sufferers can experience extreme sleep deprivation, physical pain, eating disorders and very low energy, as well as the obvious mental and emotional disturbances.

The World Health Organisation says that:

Depression is the leading cause of years lost to disability in both high and low/middle income countries.

How mindfulness can help

But there is a way out. By practising mindfulness, you can pull the mind away from those negative thought patterns and refocus on something more physical, such as the breath, or the sensations of walking. This temporarily lifts the mind out of the downward spiral and gives it a chance to separate from the thoughts which would otherwise pull them down into depression. Being mindful and observing your thoughts,allows you to distance yourself from these thoughts and not identify with them. Then it is possible to recognise that these are just thoughts passing through your mind and that they will dissolve. They are not you. The feeling that you are your thoughts, is replaced by an awareness that they are a process occurring to you they are not your identity, they are not the truth about what kind of person you are or what the future will be. Thoughts are not solid or static, they are in a constant state of flux and will change according to how you feel within yourself.

The words ‘distance yourself’ do not mean ignore, or deny your feelings of depression. It is important to recognise these feelings and allow them to be heard, for it is through acknoledging your feelings that you can begin the process of recovery. If you walk away from a problem, you can not solve it, but getting perspective on it is good.
These words from the spiritual teacher Emmanual echo what I am saying:

‘Close your eyes and welcome the heaviness. It will lighten. In so doing, you bring your self-love into an area that believes it will never be seen, never be heard, never be allowed. So walk with your heaviness, saying ‘yes’. Yes to the sadness. Yes to the whispered longing. Yes to the fear. Yes.’

‘If there is anguish to be faced, it is best to try to move conciously away first from the fear that prevents us looking at our pain. Then we can contact the  part of ourselves- the deeper part- which is loving and trusting, and use that to help us look directly at what is causing us distress. Then in turn we can deal with it in the most loving way.’ – Colum Hayward, Eyes of the Spirit.

I like this attitude of acceptance, that you can love yourself and forgive yourself for these feelings, just accept them, without feeling guilty for feeling depressed, it happens to so many people. Just love yourself and give yourself time to slowly work through it. Using the tools of mindfulness and meditation to get some perspective.

You can also say ‘yes’ to knowing that when you are ready you will come out of the depression.
It has been found that people with depression often find it easier to do a more physical kind of meditation, such as walking or Yoga, as it is a stronger sensation and therefore easier to focus on and not get distracted by negative thinking. Also if somebody feels that they could easily become overwhelmed by watching their thoughts and may not feel ready to be paying attention to upsetting, or traumatic past memories, it is usually safer to begin by doing a more structured kind of meditation such as visualisation or something focused outside of themselves such as mindful walking. This can help to rebuild a connection with the world again, in a way that feels safe.

In a recent study of Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention they found three major benefits of Mindfulness

  • Becoming aware of reactions. Being more intentionally aware of the present moment, gives people the space to pause, before reacting automatically to other people. So that instead of becoming distressed about rejection or criticism, they can take a step back and observe and understand their own automatic reactions. This also allows them to become more sensitive to others needs and emotions. When someone is so over whelmed by their own emotions, it is very hard to see or imagine how other people are feeling. So this kind of awareness gives them more choice in how to respond, instead of getting swept up into negative emotion.
  • Stronger personal boundaries They found the participants became more assertive and were more able to acknowledge their own needs, before frustrations about having their boundaries crossed were able to build up.
  • Better communication Being present with others enabled people to bring more attention to relationships and appreciate their time with others. It helped them to let go of distressing histories, allowing them to relate to others in new ways and have a greater empathy for others, which let them look at their own communication problems and focus on solutions.

BBC News article on the effect of mindfulness on depression