Mindfulness meditation has shown promising results when it comes to treating depression in patients who have been newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS, a study from researchers at London’s Lawson Health Research Institute has found.
“Mindfulness is bringing people into the moment rather than worrying about what could happen in the future or thinking about what happened in the past,” said Dr. Arlene MacDougall, a psychiatrist and scientist at Lawson, in a statement.
“It’s about centering yourself and gaining a sense of control of how you will respond rather than react to what is happening inside or outside of you.”
According to the study, the initial findings of which was published in May in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders, researchers recruited 24 newly diagnosed relapsing MS, or RMS, patients for the project.
Half of the participants took part in mindfulness treatment ten sessions from the program Mindfulness Without Borders — while the other half acted as the study’s control group, researchers said.
The study found that those in the mindfulness group reported better coping skills and less perceived stress, and that their symptoms had been reduced, said Dr. Sarah Morrow, a neurologist and associate scientist at Lawson, and director of the London MS Clinic at LHSC.
In particular, the study found promising results when it came to treating patients’ depression.
“It can be a stressful time for people as they have just been diagnosed with a chronic neurological disease that will last the rest of their life,” Morrow said in a statement.
“They don’t know what will happen next. Will they be disabled? When will the next relapse happen? It can cause a lot of worry and stress, and we see a majority of patients with MS experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”
Multiple sclerosis has been described as an complex and unpredictable autoimmune disease, causing inflammation in the central nervous system, resulting in injury to myelin, the protective sheath that covers nerves. The damage can lead to physical disability and cognitive impairment.
Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, according to the organization. An average of 12 people in Canada are diagnosed with MS every day, often between the ages of 20 and 49. Women are three times more likely to be affected.
There is currently no cure for MS, however several treatments exist to manage it, and many others are in development. According to the MS Society, 17 disease-modifying therapies have been approved so far by Health Canada.
“This pilot study demonstrates that an (mindfulness-based intervention) may improve coping, depression and perceived stress in newly diagnosed (within one year) persons with RMS in the short term,” the study’s conclusion reads.
The researchers say further research investigate measures to extend the benefit beyond the immediate intervention is needed. According to Lawson, the research team is working to examine whether the use of mindfulness would help those in the more progressive stages of MS.
Mindfulness meditation has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, with hundreds of apps aimed at helping people achieve calmness and relaxation. The most popular of these apps include Headspace and Calm, which each have millions of users.
A 2018 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that meditation was the fastest-growing health trend among adults in the U.S.
— With files from Olivia Bowden