A new study recently published in the esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that meditation has the same effect of antidepressant pills on depression. Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, which typically occurs in the workplace. Given its nature, depression among mesothelioma patients is extremely common. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are always researching ways to help our asbestos exposure clients cope with the disease.
The meditation study was led by a doctor at Johns Hopkins, Madhav Goyal, who aimed to examine the effects of meditation on the brain. Dr. Goyal and his team reviewed about 50 earlier clinical trials to analyze mindful meditation and easing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Among mesothelioma patients – and all types of cancer patients – anxiety, pain and depression can greatly reduce quality of life at the most critical time. Taking a few minutes every day to mindfully meditate, the researchers found, was just as effective as medication.
First, it is important to define what defines meditation in this context. It is not, as many assume, simply sitting in a room alone in chanting in silence. At its most basic level, meditation refers to actively training your mind to heighten awareness of thoughts and/or bodily sensations. This can be achieved through many different modes, however this study found ‘mindfulness meditation’ to be most beneficial. An abstract of the study can be found here.
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What was most interesting about this study was its comparison to the health benefits of antidepressants. One in ten Americans taken an antidepressant medication, and over a quarter of cancer patients are depressed, with about 16% taking an antidepressant. All medications carry a wide range of side effects and possible adverse events; there is no known harm that can come from meditating.
Cancer fighters are treated with a slew of medications throughout their therapy, and many drugs do not mix well together, decreasing efficacy or causing life-threatening side effects. Knowing that major depression can be treated with counseling and meditation with the same results as medication can enable patients to live healthier, more enjoyable lives while fighting their disease.
Dr. Goyal and his team found that the effect size for meditation and medication on depression was exactly the same – at 0.3 (depression has an extremely low treatment success rate). Their next endeavor will examine whether health benefits increase with more training, practice and skill between both meditation trainer and trainee.
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It is worth noting that talk therapy (and especially cognitive behavioral therapy) is also known to be just as effective as antidepressant medications, and combining the two therapies seems to be most effective. It will be interesting to see the effects of meditation, combined with talk therapy, on depression symptoms.
Biologically, MRI scans show that meditation reduces activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that regulates stress response. It is also linked to decreased activity in the brain’s default mode network, which is typically cited as the center of unhappiness and stress. Scientists now believe that meditation enhances body awareness, changes in self-perspective, attention regulation, and emotional regulation.
On a personal level, I know meditation works. When practices consistently, it will spill into other areas of your life beyond the symptoms of pain, depression and anxiety, such as familial relationships, self-esteem, and your focus, energy levels, and appreciation for life. As the old Zen adage goes, everyone should “sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then sit for an hour.”
Mesothelioma patients have enough stressors and should not have to deal with antidepressant side effects. Meditation programs can lessen the negative emotions associated with a dismal illness and psychological stress. Our team of asbestos exposure lawyers is always here to help mesothelioma patients trying to cope with the disease. We offer free case reviews for anyone with questions about filing a claim and how the legal process works.