There is no one-size-fits-all solution or cure when it comes to depression and anxiety, but there is a huge chunk of the population that is increasingly suffering from preventable mental health issues.
Some of this may be treated with medication, but actually, with the right tools and learning, there is a lot around anxious behaviour, for instance, that can be treated.
Mindfulness has long been suggested as a possible practice - Professor Mark Williams, director for mindfulness at Oxford University is undertaking a major study into how exactly this can work.
However, ahead of that work, a new study from Lund University in Sweden and Region Skåne has found that group mindfulness treatment is as effective as individual cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in patients with depression and anxiety.
So what is group mindfulness?
Dr Williams describes it as: "knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment."
If that sounds overly simplistic, it's because the basic principle is. It's simply focussing on what's going on right now, so that you stop panicking about what will happen in the future or agonising over what has happened in the past.
"It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour," he says.
The researchers, led by Professor Jan Sundquist, ran the study at 16 primary health care centres in Skåne, a county in southern Sweden.
In spring 2012, patients with depression, anxiety or reactions to severe stress were randomised to either structured group mindfulness treatment with approximately 10 patients per group, or regular treatment (mainly individual CBT). Patients also received a private training programme and were asked to record their exercises in a diary.
The treatment lasted eight weeks.
A total of 215 patients were included in the study. Before and after treatment, the patients in the mindfulness and regular treatment groups answered questionnaires that estimated the severity of their depression and anxiety.
Self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety decreased in both groups during the 8-week treatment period. There was no statistical difference between the two treatments.
“The study’s results indicate that group mindfulness treatment, conducted by certified instructors in primary health care, is as effective a treatment method as individual CBT for treating depression and anxiety”, says Jan Sundquist. “This means that group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centres that can’t offer everyone individual therapy”.
The Centre for Primary Health Care Research is a collaboration between Lund University and Region Skåne (the county council in Skåne).