OPINION: Mindfulness aids mental health

by | Jan 27, 2017 | Life, Opinion

Neha Lobana
Life Editor

There’s no doubt that within the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the rise of those being diagnosed with some sort of mental illness or addiction.

In fact, CAMH – the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health — states that one in five Canadians experience mental health or addiction problems and by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, one in two will have or have had a mental illness.

We’ve all heard of common practices when it comes to mental health – counselling, therapy and medication. However, one practice that is still tossed in the air today is mindfulness. The act of paying attention on purpose and being conscious in our awareness.

In a 2015 article written by Telegraph’s women’s editor, Emma Barnett discussed trying mindfulness. Over the course of making a documentary on the subject, she even attempted to understand it but found that she felt “profoundly depressed” and claimed that it was just a “quick fix.”

“Anyone attempting a quick fix, like I was (admittedly I was only giving it five minutes in the dark before bedtime) has missed the biggest, scarier point,” said Barnett. “Why are so many of us living lives we feel unable to cope with? How is it that we are so unhappy with our lots that we will willingly sit cringing in a room with our colleagues while remembering to breathe?”

From a personal standpoint, I understand where Barnett is coming from. As someone who has battled severe depression for nine years, I have been given various methods on ways to cope with my diagnosis. In 2015, I too was introduced to mindfulness. I remember the first time that my psychologist asked me to sit still, close my eyes, clear my mind and do a few deep breathing exercises. The thought that ran past my mind was, “What the hell am I doing? This is not going to help me.” As a result, I didn’t look back at practicing mindfulness, until this year.

I came across the book Mindfulness: An eight-week guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. The book was created to help individuals understand where true happiness, peace and contentment can be found and how you can rediscover them yourself. They specifically say that they aren’t promising eternal bliss, as everyone goes through phases of pain and suffering. That is fair to say, as the same goes if you are on anti-depressants and keeping up with therapy. Specific moods or phases cannot be avoided — however the way you react to them can.

Mindfulness requires a lot of time and patience which makes it easy to understand why individuals with mental illness may find themselves giving up on the idea quickly. It was challenging for me two years ago but through a lot of motivation and determination, I convinced myself to set aside 15 minutes each day practicing a meditation from the book.

However, it’s not only about meditating; rather, it’s living in the moment and accepting the way you feel. It’s all about mental training. Training your mind so you can see negative thoughts, feelings and early signs of relapses which will allow you to respond to those in a more resilient manner.

Furthermore, a study published in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2016 revealed that mindfulness works as well as some anti-depressant drugs and that there was no evidence of any harmful effects. Researchers also reported that the individuals suffering from depression who employed mindfulness were 31 per cent less likely to suffer from relapses during the next 60 weeks.

“This new evidence for mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is very heartening,” said a researcher from the study, Professor Willem Kuyken. “While MBCT is not a panacea, it does clearly offer those with a substantial history of depression a new approach to learning skills to stay well in the long-term.”

Similarly, after working with 89 patients who were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center’s department of psychiatry found that those who participated in meditation classes reduced their stress responses significantly. Meanwhile, those who were enrolled in an educational stress management course experienced a worse response.

While mindfulness is continuing to be studied carefully by researchers, it is has been known to be an inexpensive and low stigma approach which improves one’s mindset and attitude towards negative situations.