Mindfulness-based depression therapy reduces health care visits

Woman Closing EyeBy Benita Matilda for Science World Report

A mindfulness-based therapy for depression reduces healthcare visits among those who often see their family doctors.

The study, led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in collaboration with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, found that frequent health service users – after receiving mindfulness-based cognitive therapy – exhibited a significant drop in non-mental healthcare visits over a period of one year. The mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a structured form of psychotherapy that mixes elements of cognitive-behavior therapy along with mindfulness meditation.

“We speculate that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has elements that could help people who are high health-care utilizers manage their distress without needing to go to a doctor,” said Dr. Paul Kurdyak, lead author and Director of Health Systems Research at CAMH and Lead of the Mental Health and Addictions Research Program at ICES.

In this study the researchers selected 10,633 subjects who were given group-based mindfulness-based cognitive therapy between 2003 and 2010. This was done based on the billing records from the Ontorio Health Insurance Plan.

Nearly 24 trained family doctors or psychiatrists had delivered the therapy. Among the total number of patients, 46 percent were seen as high service users, with more than five visits to the primary-care physician, emergency department of other specialist in a year.

They were compared to 29,795 subjects who received group therapy like cognitive-behavior or interpersonal psychotherapy, without a mindfulness component. There 13,274 subjects as controls who were high service users.

The researchers noticed that subjects belonging to the mindfulness therapy had fewer non-mental health visits per year, for every two individuals treated with this therapy. Overall, this leads to a reduction of 2,500 visits to primary care physician, emergency departments or non-psychiatric specialists over eight years in Ontario.

Senior author Dr. Zindel Segal, who developed mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, said, “The goal of this therapy is to treat depression or anxiety so this unintended effect is striking, particularly as there is limited evidence on interventions that effectively reduce high health care use.”

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