Mindfulness adapted to break cycle of depression in adolescents

Image by Jean Eduardo Gonçalves from Pixabay

An innovative new treatment has been adapted at the University of Exeter to help adolescents who have already been treated for a depressive or anxiety-based illness and still need more support.

One in five young people aged between eight and 16 years old has already experienced a probable mental health disorder and Exeter academics are part of a collaboration which has developed a form of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to try and treat adolescents for whom other treatments haven’t worked.

The research programme is called Mindfulness for Adolescents and Carers (MAC) and Exeter is one of the key sites in the programme grant ATTEND (adolescents and carers using mindfulness therapy to end depression and anxiety), which is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

Dr Rachel Hayes is a Senior Research Fellow and works in the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Research Collaboration (ChYMe) at the University of Exeter. She said: “There’s now strong evidence that mindfulness is useful in adults, but the evidence base with young people is still very much emerging. Mindfulness aims to prevent a reoccurrence of depression by trying to break negative patterns of thinking.”

With the help of University of Exeter academics, MAC has been developed for young people who have not fully recovered from a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, despite receiving treatment. One of the unique elements of the programme is a parallel parent session, which is run as a separate group, at the same time as the young person’s session.

Dr Hayes said: “We know if parents are engaged in their young person’s recovery and journey, there are better outcomes and both parties feel more supported. We also know that mental health disorders run in families, and parenting a child who’s got quite a significant mental health illness is often a very stressful and upsetting experience and as a result, we find many parents are also struggling with their mental health.”

There are six UK sites involved in the trial, including Exeter, with 480 young people aged between 15 and 18 years old being recruited across them. Six therapists are also being trained at each of the sites.

Katrina Nellist is co-applicant of the trial and took part in the pilot study as a teenager 10 years ago. She said: “It really helped me, and I still use it now as an adult. The group aspect was extremely important for me, and it was nice to have a community at that age and connect with people in the same situation as me. Now I’m part of the Patient Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) team at Exeter, giving my opinion as someone who has taken part and has that patient perspective. When you have experienced treatment-resistant depression it’s good to have a tool like MBCT.”