Mindfulness Meditation Comparable to Medication for Depression


Researchers from Johns Hopkins, publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed the research literature on mindfulness meditation to find that it is effective in addressing negative dimensions of psychological stress. “For depression, we found a roughly 10 to 20 percent improvement in depressive symptoms compared to the placebo groups. This is similar to the effects of antidepressants in similar populations,” says lead author Madhav Goyal.

Abstract →

Goyal, M., Singh, S., Siginga, E., Gould, N.; Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being. JAMA Internal Medicine. Online January 6, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018

Of further interest:
Meditation May Reduce Mild Depression, Anxiety (US News)
Study: Meditation Relieves Some Anxiety, Depression Beyond Placebo (WBUR)
Meditation for insight also may reduce anxiety and depression (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Meditation May Reduce Depression, Anxiety and Pain (Health 24)
Meditation for Anxiety and Depression? (Science Codex)
Is Meditation the New Antidepressant? Mindfulness Practice May be More Effective Than Drugs for Anxiety, Depression (National Post)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Mindfulness meditation is “comparable” to medication for depression? There’s no comparison! Meditation is the practice of being centered and grounded, of course it’s only going to help improve one’s health, in every capacity. We need studies for this?

    Most of the world is convinced already that meditation is the most healthful action we can take. What an absurd waste, needing statistics to prove this. Are these researchers really that out of it, or is it the fact that this is a racket? Wow.

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    • Evidence based practices! EVERYTHING has to be proven to work these days before biopsychiatry will even consider it. This is the state that we find outselves in due to forcing everything into the so-called “medical model.”

      Proving that mindfulness indeed works may just be one of the ways to combat the biopsychiatry business; you use their own practices against them. I’m willing to study and prove that mindfulness workds since the studies become ammunition in my arsenal that I use to shoot biopsychiatry down.

      However, I too am disgusted by the fact that we have to do things like this for practices that have been successful and useful for thousands of years. However, many psychiatrists won’t listen to anything else because they’re so infected by the “medical model.”

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      • Yep, you’re right about all of it, Stephen. True that these studies are what science requires before labeling it ‘truth,’ and at least these are actually supporting evidence for what really is true and helpful to people.

        Still, my gasket blew a bit when I saw this because, like you, I find it really crazy that money and time is spent ‘proving’ things that we already know with certainty due to common sense or, like you say, thousands of years of successful practice. Or on totally decoy and faulty, skewed and terribly biased studies that, somehow, become integrated into medical and popular beliefs, wreaking havoc for people and communities, and continuing to line certain specific pockets.

        Yes, it can feel disgusting at times, when you consider how people could be helped so much more TODAY if we didn’t insist on waiting for evidence, especially with something so obvious like this.

        It’s why this whole conversation has become never-ending. A lot of peoples’ livelihood depends on never resolving this, at the tremendous expense of so many. This is what make me most angry.

        I’d like to see people start to trust their intuition more, so as to decrease the level of dependency we have on organized mental health care, until we eventually don’t need it any longer because we’ve segued into the myriad practices alternative to this that are actually supportive and effective, rather than those like psychiatry—and even some psychotherapy, that many have pointed out can be harmful and re-traumatizing–that are controlling, dangerous, and potentially deadly. That’s where we do have plenty of evidence, mountains of it, and a really large choir of voices all over the world.

        Thanks to the incredible plethora of diverse information and perspectives shared on this website, I think we have enough evidence that this whole ‘mental illness’ thing is based on multiple illusions, and why that is advantageous for some, to keep the illusions alive. I would be really shocked if reason, statistics, or personal testimonials were to ever crack that wall. They count on things being left vague and inconclusive, or simply misleading, to require even MORE studies. Wall, black hole, bottomless pit–choose the metaphor, all three apply in this case.

        In addition, from what I’ve witnessed, we all seem to have developed very firm convictions and beliefs by which to live, thanks to what we wrestle with, here. I think what is most healing, under any circumstances, is to live our truths—not a therapists or psychiatrists truth, but OUR truth.

        Why do we need to convince psychiatrists, or anyone? We can certainly meditate, at least, without the need for evidence so they can give their stamp of approval.

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        • Alex explains,

          I think what is most healing, under any circumstances, is to live our truths—not a therapists or psychiatrists truth, but OUR truth.

          Why do we need to convince psychiatrists, or anyone? We can certainly meditate, at least, without the need for evidence so they can give their stamp of approval.


          Great comment. I agree with you entirely, and I share your frustration.

          You describe,

          …my gasket blew a bit when I saw this because, like you, I find it really crazy that money and time is spent ‘proving’ things that we already know with certainty due to common sense or, like you say, thousands of years of successful practice.

          If it took blowing a gasket to convey your thoughts, I appreciate your having blown a gasket. (You saved me from blowing a gasket.)

          Thank you and also commenters Stephen Gilbert and uprising.

          Why do we need ‘authorities’ of any kind, to guide us to our own inner wisdom?

          Now, instead of blowing a gasket, I am going to take the next ten minutes, to meditate.

          Here’s a brief 3 minute audio recording (a woman’s voice) to begin meditating on the breath…




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          • Point well taken, Jonah! After I made this post, I did go out and take a walk in the woods, which helped me come back to center. I’m glad I was able to intercept for you 🙂

            This is what I love most about meditation: after years of practice and teaching it, I can still have my natural passionate reaction to things, but I can quickly ground and come back center, no lingering.

            I’ve found that with good hardy daily focused meditation, just sitting in stillness–or with whatever comes up, not taking action, just breathing through whatever surfaces until any anxiety passes–we can rewire the brain to where it lets go of things, and we don’t carry around baggage. Every day becomes a new day, without lingering issues to tie up my brain. Frees up our creativity. I’ve gotten fantastic feedback on this.

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        • I agree and you espressed it so well. Yes, the most important thing is to “live our own truths.”

          In the state hospital where I work this is very difficult to get across to the so-called “patients.” They’ve been taught by the psychiatrists and almost everyone else working for the system that they’re to never trust their own truths; in fact, there are no truths that come out of their experience as far as the system is concerned. The only “truth” comes from on high, pronounced by the treatment team at the direction of some biopsychiatrist.

          It is very distressing and upsetting to me that so very few of them show any spirit at all and are willing to even try to claim their own truth. However, I’m not blaming them because I know the crushing weight of the system that comes down on anyone who even tries to buck the system and say that their own story is the only truth and that they’re the only expert on their life.

          I know that in my attempts to empower them they end up thinking that I’m the “mad” one because what I propose and proclaim is so very foreign to their experience. They’re never allowed to make decisions on their own and are never really consulted about their “treatment” and are never given true informed consent. They’re just told to take the toxic drugs and behave or they’re have to stay in the so-called “hospital” even longer. The system knows how to make “believers” out of people. Not all of them believe but they certainly do play the game and jump through the hoops to be able to get loose from the place.

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          • Stephen, your post is so moving to me–not only because it is such powerful and clear truth, but also because I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about.

            The mind-programming that takes place in the system is over the top. It’s why people appear soul-less, because they have been so utterly traumatized out of their voice of truth. Although, I know in my heart it is somewhere in there. It would seem next to impossible to awaken to it consciously while still being ‘required’ to live in such an environment, however. That’s the challenge, here.

            Indeed, they cannot blame themselves. I’ve certainly been there, until I woke up. Waking up was hard, because I felt like a fool for what I got myself into, voluntarily, but this was a good lesson–self-forgiveness.

            I learned a lot being ‘foolish,’ so, in essence, I’m glad it all happened the way it did. Really gave me the best and most well-rounded perspective, like I hear from you. It’s rare to have the opportunities of perspective that you and I have, thanks to where our lives have led us.

            Having been a client-transitioned-to-staff, myself, for a while, that was the toughest spot for me, just like you’re describing. This is what I experienced as a voc rehab counselor, after having gone through the system. I was, literally, the only one who knew how to communicate with clients in a way that got the job done.

            My co-workers, most of them very well-meaning (but very young and inexperienced) were steeped in stigma, could not at all have a clear view of their client, that was so obvious to me. For some reason, they accepted me eye to eye, however, they enjoyed working with me. These had not been clients, they had not been through the system. They were just young urban professionals, just as indoctrinated, at least, behaviorally. They did not live in their truth at work, but in the truth of management. And this affected the clients profoundly.

            Management liked me at first (after all, they recruited me from their program!), but soon, they couldn’t stand me, and they literally persecuted me because of my success with clients. I was very successful in matching them with jobs that fulfilled them, and this was not the objective of this agency, it turned out–as we all now know about such things.

            Many of those I worked with thought like I did and we talked about our frustrations, but when it came to speaking our truth about it, even totally appropriate in the context of a staff meeting or feedback session, suddenly, they were all fine with it, while to me, they complained otherwise. It was maddening and disheartening, and it made it hard for me to continue healing, in such a hypocrisy.

            It’s how I ended up in legal mediation, because this complacency and duplicity, due to fear on the part of staff, feeling intimidated by this management team, is what allowed the discrimination toward me to occur. So I went to the EEOC. By the time I got through with them, their top three brass–CEO, Prez, Program Mgr–had resigned. That was my personal coup.

            Same thing happened when I worked in professional advocacy. Advocates were double-dealers, and many clients kissed ass because that was the game. While, again, to me, they complained about those same asses.

            It’s always hard to know where to go next in moving this forward. As you illustrate, so many double-binds.

            Although I think this conversation is really clear, so I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue speaking your truth toward this goal. You’ve accomplished more than you know, I’m sure. Keep speaking it, Stephen, just like you do! Your truth is your guide, and it will help connect others to THEIR truth, that’s how it works.

            Things will continue to unfold now, I’m certain of it.

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