Date: 03 June 2016
Finn from Bristol experienced severe depression in his early twenties. He was prescribed various antidepressant medications and undertook cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but it was only when he was introduced to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) that Finn’s depression really started to shift. Now, he says “Instead of depression setting the agenda in my life, I’m free to follow my aspirations without fear.”
When Finn first visited his GP for his depression after graduating from university, talking therapies were less available than they are today. “I was given one SSRI [selective serotonin uptake inhibitor], and when that didn’t work, another. Then when that one also didn’t do anything, I was prescribed a combination. I ended up on a massive cocktail of drugs that never touched the surface. All it did was give me unwanted side-effects.”
He had already been introduced to CBT as a teenager when seeing a counsellor in NHS mental health services and decided to organise individual CBT privately in his early twenties. “I certainly found benefits from CBT, like the ability to recognise unhelpful thought patterns and especially the behavioural component - keeping active, not isolating yourself and planning small achievable tasks. But overall it really didn’t make a proper difference to my mood. I even remember the therapist saying after six weeks that CBT probably wasn’t for me.”
Finn came across mindfulness in a book, The Mindful way through depression and very quickly recognised himself in the text. “I’d read a few books on depression before, but this was the first time I could genuinely imagine using the techniques presented to deal with the underlying cognitive causes of my low mood, like rumination and self-judgment.”
Finn then booked on to an 8-week MBCT group course privately, mainly because this wasn’t available through NHS services at the time. “I really liked the group element of it, being in it together. Hearing people talk about their challenges in doing the various meditation exercises really helped to keep motivated too, because I realised I wasn’t alone and that although meditating is inherently difficult, it gets easier with practice.
“I saw benefits immediately as well, a sense of distance from the thoughts and emotions that had always pulled me in so much before. I realised it was changing the relationship with thoughts that was the answer for me, rather than constantly trying to change the thoughts themselves, like in CBT”.
Since then, Finn has continued his mindfulness practice beyond the MBCT group and made a daily personal routine. “I’ve found it’s really important to keep up the practice during the good times, where actually you can lay a lot of the groundwork for getting through harder times more easily. It’s easy to think ‘I’m better now, so I don’t need to keep up with mindfulness.’ But that’s when you can really make it count. It’s just like how keeping fit when you’re well will help you get over a virus quicker because you’ll be physically healthy.”
Finn was prescribed various antidepressants, but it was mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) that started to shift his depression.