Cost Effectively Treat Recurrent Depression with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Depression is not only the most common mental illness, it’s also one of the most tenacious. Up to 80 percent of people who experience a major depressive episode may relapse. Drugs may lose their effectiveness over time, if they work at all. But a growing body of research is pointing to an intervention that appears to help prevent relapse by altering thought patterns without side effects: mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT”. – Stacy Lu


Clinically diagnosed depression is the most common mental illness, affecting over 6% of the population. Major depression can be quite debilitating. It is also generally episodic, coming and going. Some people only have a single episode but most have multiple reoccurrences of depression.  Depression can be difficult to treat and usually treated with anti-depressive medication. But, of patients treated initially with drugs only about a third attained remission of the depression. After repeated and varied treatments including drugs, therapy, exercise etc. only about two thirds of patients attained remission. But, drugs often have troubling side effects and can lose effectiveness over time. In addition, many patients who achieve remission have relapses and recurrences of the depression.


Being depressed and not responding to treatment or relapsing is a terribly difficult situation. The patients are suffering and nothing appears to work to relieve their intense depression. Suicide becomes a real possibility. So, it is imperative that other treatments be identified that can be applied when the typical treatments fail. Mindfulness training is another alternative treatment for depression. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression and is also effective for the prevention of its recurrence. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was specifically developed to treat depression and can be effective even in the cases where drugs fail. Hence, MBCT is a promising alternative treatment. As such, it is important to further investigate its effectiveness. But, costs are also important, so determining the cost-effective of MBCT is also very important.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for recurrent major depression: A ‘best buy’ for health care?” See:

or see summary below, Shawyer and colleagues recruited adults who were in remission from verified Major Depressive Disorder and engaged them in a continuous self-monitoring of depression. They were then randomly assigned them to either receive no-treatment or 8 weeks of 2 hour, once a week, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) with once a month optional booster sessions for 3 months. They measured days depressed, patient quality of life, and the economic costs of disability and treatment, before and after treatment and 14 and 24 months later.


They found that over the two years of the study that the patients receiving MBCT had significantly fewer days (44%) with depression than control patients regardless of whether treatment was performed in primary or secondary care facilities. This resulted in major cost savings, with the yearly costs for mental health treatment for the MBCT treated patients 32% lower and overall health care costs 24% lower than control patients. Hence, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was found to be not only an effective treatment for reoccurrence of major depression, but also a cost-effective treatment.


MBCT uses mindfulness training and cognitive training to allow the patients to reprogram their thought patterns and how they interpret experiences, recognizing that their thoughts are only, just that, thoughts and not reflective of their selves. They learn to experience their emotions but adaptively react to them, seeing them as simply experiences that come and go. The results of today’s Research News study demonstrates, as have a number of other studies, that this approach is effective for the treatment of recurrent depression. But, in today’s cost conscious medical environment, the study, importantly, demonstrated that MBCT also reduces health care costs. Hence, MBCT improves major depression cost-effectively.


So, cost effectively treat recurrent depression with mindfulness.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


“Through mindfulness, individuals start to see their thoughts as less powerful. These distorted thoughts – such as “I always make mistakes” or “I’m a horrible person” – start to hold less weight. We ‘experience’ thoughts and other sensations, but we aren’t carried away by them. We just watch them come and go.” – William Marchand


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Frances Shawyer, Joanne C Enticott, Mehmet Özmen, Brett Inder,and Graham N Meadows Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for recurrent major depression: A ‘best buy’ for health care? Aust N Z J Psychiatry, October 2016; vol. 50, 10: pp. 1001-1013., first published on April 19, 2016



Objective: While mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is effective in reducing depressive relapse/recurrence, relatively little is known about its health economic properties. We describe the health economic properties of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in relation to its impact on depressive relapse/recurrence over 2 years of follow-up.

Method: Non-depressed adults with a history of three or more major depressive episodes were randomised to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy + depressive relapse active monitoring (n = 101) or control (depressive relapse active monitoring alone) (n = 102) and followed up for 2 years. Structured self-report instruments for service use and absenteeism provided cost data items for health economic analyses. Treatment utility, expressed as disability-adjusted life years, was calculated by adjusting the number of days an individual was depressed by the relevant International Classification of Diseases 12-month severity of depression disability weight from the Global Burden of Disease 2010. Intention-to-treat analysis assessed the incremental cost–utility ratios of the interventions across mental health care, all of health-care and whole-of-society perspectives. Per protocol and site of usual care subgroup analyses were also conducted. Probabilistic uncertainty analysis was completed using cost–utility acceptability curves.

Results: Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy participants had significantly less major depressive episode days compared to controls, as supported by the differential distributions of major depressive episode days (modelled as Poisson, p < 0.001). Average major depressive episode days were consistently less in the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy group compared to controls, e.g., 31 and 55 days, respectively. From a whole-of-society perspective, analyses of patients receiving usual care from all sectors of the health-care system demonstrated dominance (reduced costs, demonstrable health gains). From a mental health-care perspective, the incremental gain per disability-adjusted life year for mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was AUD83,744 net benefit, with an overall annual cost saving of AUD143,511 for people in specialist care.

Conclusion: Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy demonstrated very good health economic properties lending weight to the consideration of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy provision as a good buy within health-care delivery.

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