Date: 02 June 2016
Talking therapies can play a big part in helping people to understand, manage and overcome their depression. We spoke to six patients from a mindfulness based cognitive therapy group in Berkshire. All six realised that they had a health problem at different stages of their lives. They all experienced different combinations of anti-depressant medication, cognitive behaviour therapy (online and face-to-face) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy.
Claire’s early adult years were marked by depression and anxiety, treated with counselling and anti-depressant medication. It was only after a major breakdown at the age of 31 that Claire was referred for one-to-one cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
“Those ten sessions – backed up with some recommended reading - were extremely beneficial. It was the first time I had learned how my thoughts were impacting on my feelings and behaviours.
"It helped me to feel focussed, to feel that this was something I could use to help myself. It was part of understanding that this is a lifelong illness that I needed to be able to manage.
“I used the CBT techniques for a long time, and it was very helpful, even during a relapse. Later, I was signed up for a computerised CBT programme. It seemed to be a well-developed package but I found it very hard to complete without personal support.”
Claire was then referred for a course of mindfulness based cognitive therapy, working in groups led by a therapist.
“For me, the group work was the key. Working with the group and our excellent therapist depersonalised the depressive illness and I came to understand that I am not my depression, I am not defined by my depression. I use the mindfulness techniques daily and have been able to keep going with my busy and stressful job.”
Louise did not respond to the anti-depressants prescribed for her depression and like Claire found fortnightly one-to-one CBT sessions a constructive way forward.
“I kept a diary of my thoughts and behaviours. The therapist taught me to pick up the patterns of negative behaviour and we would discuss how to change them. Living alone and working hard running my own business, I had little personal support. The CBT gave me a ‘toolbox’ of techniques that I could use to help manage my depression.”
Gill had had mild depression since her teens but this got much worse after she became a mother later in life.
“I found it hard to get my treatment straightened out. It was tricky to find an anti-depressant that suited me and I tried private psychodynamic therapy with only little benefit. When, a couple of years later I became much more unwell I was referred for online CBT. The problem was, there was almost no personal support to this process. I could not make it work for me. I was very tired and I was trying to fight the depression. I needed more help.” Gill has since joined the mindfulness group and has found this therapy helpful."
Andy also tried CBT and found it wasn’t right for him.
“I was in a very stressful job and feeling very anxious. At first I didn’t acknowledge that I was depressed and the first medication I took was to help me sleep. I tried one-to-one CBT but it wasn’t helping. The therapist’s view was that I am a perfectionist and find it hard to let things go. It seemed as though I needed another way forward.”
Andy then undertook a course in mindfulness based cognitive therapy and found learning mindfulness in a group “very powerful”.
“You are not alone and you are not ‘different’. It’s not easy to master at first but it’s a learned skill and it becomes easier. Now I try to practise mindfulness every day. Using it makes me feel more energised. It’s the one thing that has really made a difference to my depression. I wish it had been available to me sooner.”
Caroline’s depression had built up slowly. She tried various interventions (although not CBT) and remedies. She experienced a cocktail of stresses in her life that left her not only depressed but physically ill.
“The anti-depressants weren’t compatible with my physical health problem and at first I tried all sorts of things including acupuncture and faith healing. I had seen a counsellor who was great but what I didn’t realise at that point was that I needed support and I needed strategies.”
Caroline has found this support through the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy group, saying: "It has taught me strategies that I use every day. Things I have spent years fighting no longer bother me."
*Everyone in this group attended therapies provided by the NHS. The courses of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy referred to took place between 2012 and 2014. Some names have been changed.
We spoke to six patients from a mindfulness based cognitive therapy group about their experience of depression and treatment.