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Our work focuses on preventing depression, promoting mental health and enhancing human potential across the lifespan

Depression is a common disorder that has enormous medical, social, economic and personal costs. It often starts early in life and runs a recurrent course. Treatment can be effective and includes anti-depressants and ‘talking therapies’ such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but these treatments do not work for everyone. Crucially, antidepressants only work for as long as someone continues to take them. Research at Oxford University and partner institutions over the last decade has developed, tested and rolled-out new approaches to treating and preventing depression – giving those at risk, access to proven tools to help manage their condition long-term.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for Depression was first developed by Mark Williams, John Teasdale (Cambridge) and Zindel Segal (Toronto) to help people at risk for depression learn lifelong skills to stay well.  The approach teaches people a range of skills to prevent depression, including learning to view negative thoughts as passing mental events, rather than facts. “Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches people to challenge their negative thoughts but for people with recurrent depression this can be really hard,” explains Professor Willem Kuyken. “MCBT takes a slightly different approach. It encourages people to accept their thoughts, stand back from them, and realise they will pass.”

Numerous randomised controlled trials have shown that MCBT is effective, and more recent work conducted at Oxford has shown that the ability to decentre from negative thoughts and learn to be kind and self-compassionate, is critical to the success of the approach. Importantly, several trials have now shown that MBCT is an effective alternative to long-term use of antidepressants. 

Over the last ten years, the Oxford team have worked to embed MBCT for depression into policy and practice and ensure access to the therapy for millions of people around the world.  MCBT is now one of the recommended interventions in many international clinical guidelines including the USA and Canada. In England, patients have access to MCBT through the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, with evidence from these services suggesting that it helps people enhance their mental health and sustain their recovery from depression. 

Most recently our focus was the primary prevention of depression and the promotion of mental health in adolescence. That is to say, can we extend our work with adults to young people at a key stage of life to learn skills that develop their resilience, and reduce the chance of depression developing in the first place. This research was published and widely reported in 2022, and suggests that schools-based mindfulness training in 11-14 year olds does not improve the mental health of young people but does enhance teachers' mental health and school climate. More details about the project, including all the publications, can be found by visiting the following website www.myriadproject.org

 

OUR CURRENT RESEARCH 

Our next challenge is to use a public health approach to enhancing mental health in the whole population. People learn foundational skills for life in MBCT that they can use not only to cope with the everyday strains and pressures that can lead to poor mental health, but also to enjoy greater well-being and even to flourish. To do this we need to develop and research how MBCT can be accessible, effective and cost-effective to a wider population and across the lifespan.

Our group has also developed MBCT for a range of other clinical groups, people who are suicidal, who experience health anxiety and who have cardiovascular disease. We have also contributed to the development of mindfulness-based programs across the lifespan, for adults, for children and adolescents, and at different stages of life, such as the transition to becoming parents . We have also started to explore MBCT's acceptability and effectiveness in different settings, such as teachers working in schools and prisoners in the criminal justice system.

Throughout all our work we are interested in the following:

  • Theory: How does mindfulness alleviate distress, build resilience and enable flourishing?
  • Efficacy, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness: Is MBCT effective and cost-effective both in controlled trial and real-world conditions?
  • Implementation: How can it best be implemented / scaled up?
  • Lifespan: Can we consider how MBCT can play a role in primary prevention, inter-generational transmission,  secondary prevention and long-term recovery.

 

Our vision 

Mental health research is a relatively new but evolving field. An analogy with heart disease is instructive. Basic and applied science in the last fifty years has led to stepwise improvements not only in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of heart disease but also the promotion of heart health in the whole population. The same stepwise improvements are needed with mental health in the next fifty years.  Our vision is:

  • A world without the devastating effects of depression
  • Where people enjoy mental health and well-being and,
  • Are resourced to meet the challenges of the next 50 years.

To maximise the Oxford Mindfulness Research Centre's impact we collaborate with partners around the world. For example, we work closely with the not-for-profit Oxford Mindfulness Foundation to offer MBCT training. To date many hundreds of MBCT Teachers have been trained in Asia, Europe and South America.

OMC Research Group



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