The story at a glance
- Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders.
- But barriers to access and side effects prevent some from receiving effective treatment.
- For many, common antidepressant medications are ineffective.
An eight-week mindfulness meditation program is as effective as escitalopram (Lexapro), a common antidepressant, in treating anxiety disorders in adults, according to new results from a randomized clinical trial.
The trial was the first of its kind to directly compare guided mindfulness-based intervention with a first-line medication for anxiety.
“Our study provides evidence for clinicians, insurers and healthcare systems to recommend, include and reimburse mindfulness-based stress reduction as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, as mindfulness meditation is currently reimbursed by very few providers,” said Elizabeth, lead author of the study. Hoge in one version.
“A big advantage of mindfulness meditation is that you don’t need to have a clinical degree to train someone to become a mindfulness facilitator. Also, the sessions can be done outside of a medical setting, such as in a school or community center,” she continued. Hoge is director of the anxiety disorders research program and associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University.
The results were published in JAMA Psychiatry and reflect data from 102 adults treated for their anxiety with a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program and 106 patients who received 10 to 20 mg of Lexapro.
Lexapro is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor – a common type of antidepressant – which was first introduced in the late 1980s.
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The researchers assessed the patients’ anxiety symptoms before and after treatment. Symptom severity in each group dropped by about 30% after the intervention. On a scale of 1 to 7, those who underwent MBSR saw an average reduction of 1.35 points in symptom severity. People treated with Lexapro reported an average reduction of 1.43 points for the drug, marking a statistically equivalent result.
Ten patients who were treated with Lexapro dropped out of the trial due to adverse events.
MBSR is a program that uses mindfulness meditation to relieve suffering resulting from various physical and mental disorders. The eight-week program includes “weekly 2.5-hour classes, a one-day retreat weekend class during the fifth or sixth week, and daily 45-minute home exercises,” wrote the authors.
“Problematic habitual thought patterns characterize anxiety disorders, and mindfulness training specifically focuses the mind on the present moment; thus, individuals practice seeing thoughts and feelings as mere transitory mental phenomena and not necessarily exact reflections of reality,” they explained.
“This process of re-evaluation improves emotion regulation and individuals become less responsive to thoughts and feelings. Additionally, mindfulness is practiced with an attitude of non-judgment and acceptance, which over time seems to increase self-acceptance and self-compassion.
About 7 million Americans suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, while only 43% of patients receive treatment. Although medications prescribed for anxiety can be effective for some patients, many face barriers to access, do not respond to treatments, or find the side effects too burdensome.
This year, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that all adults under age 65 be routinely screened for anxiety.
Study participants were recruited from three hospitals in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, between June 2018 and February 2020. The average age of patients was 33, and the majority were female.
“It is important to note that although mindfulness meditation works, not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort to complete all the necessary sessions and do a regular home practice that enhances the effect” , added Hoge.
“Virtual broadcasting via video conferencing is likely to be effective, as long as the ‘live’ components are retained, such as question-and-answer periods and panel discussions.”
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