Mindfulness & meditation

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 One smiley: This treatment is promising and may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works.


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  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • Exclamation MarkSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

There are many types of meditation, but all involve focusing attention on something, such as a word, a phrase, an image, an idea or the act of breathing. Mindfulness is a commonly practiced type of meditation. Mindfulness meditation might involve sitting in a quiet environment for around 20 minutes a day and focusing your attention on your breath. Mindfulness can also be incorporated into daily activities, such as eating a meal and really focusing on the textures and taste of the food. For some people, meditation is a spiritual or religious activity and they use meaningful thoughts as the focus of their meditation. However, mindfulness and meditation can also be practiced without any spiritual or religious goal.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) incorporates meditation, body awareness and movement.

Mindfulness can also be incorporated into other psychological therapies – see mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

How does it work?

Meditation can be used as a relaxation method to relieve stress and anxiety. Practicing calm, deep breathing creates physiological changes in the body which may help reduce stress. Many people who have depression also experience stress and anxiety, so reducing these symptoms could improve their depressive symptoms also. Being mindful involves awareness without judgement or reaction. This may help change people’s attitudes towards their feelings or events to be more positive and help them develop better coping skills.

Is it effective?

There has been a lot of research looking at how mindfulness and meditation affects wellbeing and stress levels generally, but not many studies which have looked at it as a specific treatment for depression.

A review of a small number of such studies found that mindfulness reduced depression symptoms in adult participants when compared to those who did not receive any activity. However, not all participants had clinical depression, and the results were less clear when mindfulness was compared to another activity (active control).

A separate review looked at research of mindfulness-based stress reduction for older adults, and found mixed results from a small number of studies, with some studies showing that MBSR was effective for reducing symptoms of depression in the short term. Another review looked at studies of mindfulness for women experiencing menopause and found that although the mindfulness techniques improved stress levels, this treatment did not improve depression in participants compared to a placebo (dummy) treatment.

Several reviews of research have found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be helpful at reducing depression symptoms. This type of therapy also include aspects of cognitive behaviour therapy.

Are there any disadvantages?

Some health professionals do not recommend meditation for people with severe depression or for people who might be at risk of schizophrenia. If you feel worse during or after practicing meditation or mindfulness, it’s best to stop the practice.

Where do you get it?

Books on how to meditate are available in many bookshops and guided meditation audio and videos can be found online. Various organisations, generally with spiritual goals, also offer training in meditation – for example, local Buddhist temples. Mindfulness and meditation is also incorporated into some yoga classes.

Here is a simple technique of meditation that is similar to those taught in these books and courses:

  • Sit in a quiet room in a comfortable position with your eyes closed.
  • Choose a word which is relaxing for you (for example, 'One' or 'Calm') and repeat it silently over and over in your mind. Do not force yourself to concentrate on the word.  Alternatively, you can focus on the sensation of breathing in and out.
  • If your mind wanders, turn your attention back to the word or your breath.
  • Do this for around 10-20 minutes each day.


Mindfulness and meditation practices appear to be a promising treatment for depression, but more research is needed to be sure it is effective.

Key references

  • Blanck P, Perleth S, Heidenreich T, Kröger P, Ditzen B, Bents H, et al. Effects of mindfulness exercises as stand-alone intervention on symptoms of anxiety and depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2018; 102:25-35.
  • Fjorback LO, Arendt M, Ornbol E, Fink P, Walach H. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 2011; 124(2):102-19.
  • Hofmann SG, Gómez AF. Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2017; 40(4):739-49.
  • Jain FA, Walsh RN, Eisendrath SJ, Christensen S, Rael Cahn B. Critical analysis of the efficacy of meditation therapies for acute and subacute phase treatment of depressive disorders: a systematic review. Psychosomatics. 2015; 56(2):140-52.
  • Li SYH, Bressington D. The effects of mindfulness‐based stress reduction on depression, anxiety, and stress in older adults: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing. 2019; 28(3):635-56.
  • Liu H, Cai K, Wang J, Zhang H. The effects of mindfulness-based interventions on anxiety, depression, stress, and mindfulness in menopausal women: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Public Health. 2023; 10:1045642-.

Last reviewed and updated: 11 September 2023