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Some of you will remember a trip I made to CAMH a while back, to explore the possibility of helping with some research into the prevention of depression relapse. Aptly enough, it being Mental Health Month, I’ve begun my participation in the Mindful Mood Balance Study. This study, run by Drs Zindel Segal and Sona Dimidjian, combines Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which I received when I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) ten years ago, with mindfulness meditation. It’s testing the effectiveness of an online-based programme, developed to make the treatment more widely accessible and cost-effective. It’s more achievable for me than weekly evening trips into Toronto. This blend of techniques is designed to help me learn skills that will enable me to work wisely with my thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown it can cut the risk of future depression by half.

CBT was developed by integrating behaviour therapy with cognitive therapy to focus on the “here and now”. It works on the premise that if you can change the faulty thinking, this will have a knock-on effect of changing the faulty behaviour. Mindfulness lends itself easily to marriage with CBT. It’s origins lie in Buddhist meditation and Indian Sanskrit and it’s about bringing a conscious, non-judgmental awareness to your thoughts and feelings in the present moment.

Before you dismiss it as being some kind of ineffectual, hippy mumbo-jumbo, take a minute to think about the benefits of locating the solution to your difficulties within yourself and learning the tools to apply it. Now contrast this with society’s current preferred method of treatment: swallow a handful of pills for a while and hope it goes away.

By blending CBT and mindfulness together, this study aims to show participants ways to bring awareness to activities that have become automatic. This “automatic response” is a major part of depression. Although it took me years to understand where the root of my problems lay, that knowledge, revelatory though it was, wasn’t enough to change the deeply embedded automatic responses that I always fell back on. Can you imagine the frustration? You know what’s wrong, but when push comes to shove you find yourself making the same old mistakes over and over, which just pushes you further into negativity and self-loathing. This study helps people to step out of automatic emotional patterns and make a choice about their feelings and responses by training them to be more attentive and aware of the patterns of their thoughts.


Automatic response is a necessary part of human life. It lets you function without having to concentrate on every small adjustment. For an idea of how powerful it is, try taking the Stroop Test. It becomes a problem when, instead of being applied to something like walking or reading, we use it to deal with emotions. Depression is driven by thoughts; I knew I over-analysed everything, close friends would tell me I “thought too much.” Being on “autopilot” makes you more vulnerable to patterns of unwanted or negative thoughts and feelings, our response becomes habit and we forget we have a choice: to continue with autopilot, or choose to be mindful. My thoughts had complete control of me. They were like a movie-reel in my head I couldn’t turn off. There were times when I would try to knock myself unconscious to get some respite from their unrelenting influence. I used drugs and alcohol to muffle them, but any relief was transitory. They always came back.

Practicing mindfulness lets you take back control of your thoughts. It makes life more interesting and vivid and I know it will bring amazing benefits to my writing, but it also brings you closer to the unpleasant and difficult thoughts and feelings. By facing these and dealing with them sooner, I can reduce the likelihood of them progressing to a more intense level.

The study runs for eight weeks with weekly sessions and daily “homework”. As with CBT, most of the progress takes place between sessions, when you apply what you’ve learnt in the session to your everyday life. I’ll be keeping a log of my daily home practice and helping to assess the efficacy of the treatment, and the wonderful Ariel, who’s the Project Coordinator has been actively encouraging and emphatic in her assurance that the team are available at any time to deal with questions or concerns. I’ll keep you posted on how I progress…

Related links:

Mindfulness meditation found to be as effective as antidepressant medication in prevention of depression relapse

Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention – 1 Autopilot & Raisins
Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention – 2 The Body Scan
Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention – 3 The Breath
Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention – 4 Exploring the Landscape of Depression
Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention – 5 Facing Difficulties
Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention – 6 Thoughts Are Not Facts