ANCIENT meditation practices and modern therapy could help to reduce the risk of depressed patients committing suicide.
It is hoped this “mindfulness” approach could also reduce the risk of patients experiencing recurring episodes of suicidal depression.
Bangor University will trial this new form of therapy as part of a five-year, £1.1m study in conjunction with Oxford University.
More than 150 people will be recruited from North Wales to investigate the potential of this mindfulness approach.
If successful, it could provide the health service with a new form of therapy to help treat patients with severe forms of depression.
The new therapy is based on mindfulness – a way of approaching internal and external experiences with a sense of openness, acceptance and non-judgement.
Mindfulness helps the individual to become more accepting of their emotions, which can, in turn, reduce the stress caused by these emotions.
This is compared to depression which can often cause sufferers to become very judgmental and self-critical of themselves, leading to suicidal thoughts or even to attempting suicide.
Rebecca Crane, director of training at Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice, said, “The way in which we react to stressful or emotional situations we face can cause further stress.
“Mindfulness is effective in reducing this extra layer of difficulty and struggle.
“When practised by people with chronic pain, for example, the acceptance of pain reduces the struggle we experience around the pain and so reduces stress.
“This can often have the effect of reducing the actual experience of the pain.
“We know that in people with depression, fear of the return of depression can create a way of reacting to feelings of sadness which feeds the downward spiral into depression.
“Mindfulness helps individuals to see clearly and accept the state of mind that they are in and to respond rather than react to it. In this way it can become possible to step out of the ‘loops’ we get caught up in.”
She added, “The aim of this new treatment is to help people understand the likelihood that they may become depressed again and help them to see that there are other options to suicide.
“If we are able to understand and see how the body and mind is working more clearly it will enable us to make clearer choices.
“If you know what is going on you can make choices about how to best take care of yourself.”
The trial will build on previous research carried out at Bangor University into mindfulness and recurrent depression.
People who join the trial will be split into groups and will be put on one of three different eight-week programmes – one of which will include the mindfulness work.
They will then be followed up by the researchers for a year, examining whether they suffered from depression again and whether any subsequent episodes of depression were accompanied by suicidal thoughts.
Mrs Crane added, “The aim in this research is to test the effectiveness of this new approach in helping people to approach what they’re coping with in a new way.”
The research trial will start recruiting participants in autumn 2008. In the meantime there are regular mindfulness-based courses running for the general public in Bangor.
For more information, contact the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01248 382 939.