Many people wonder about how meditation and antidepressants work together? Can you use meditation to replace antidepressants? Can you meditate while on antidepressants? And in a meditation vs antidepressants showdown, which one wins?
In an idealistic world we would say that meditation can replace antidepressants. After all, it certainly is possible to successfully use meditation to stop depression.
As a meditation teacher I know many people who have been successful in replacing antidepressants with meditation. And those people are relieved to be off of meds and living healthy, happy lives natural.
But I also know people who have attempted to replace antidepressants with meditation who have not been so successful.
So before you decide to ditch the pills (which is something you should only ever decide with the professional guidance of a healthcare specialist), you will definitely want to know the pros, the cons, and the risks in making this very important decision.
Yes, meditation can work, but not for everyone. And some people are not in a position to stop taking medication safely.
So, let’s investigate the relationship between mindfulness and meds to see which is better, or whether you should simply starting meditating while on antidepressants.
Meditation VS AntiDepressants
It’s bizarre, but in 2020 many people consider meditation and antidepressants to be opposite. Meditation is considered the natural cure for depression, while meds are often frowned upon because of the amount of side-effects associate with them. Harvard Health Publishing says that “No medication is without risk.” Then again, it should be noted that there are also risks involved with meditation.
Despite these risks, however, the use of antidepressants is increasing, especially among women. 23% of women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants, which is a higher percentage than in any other section of society.
While antidepressants are on the rise, however, so is meditation. The mindfulness industry is now worth a staggering $1.2billion annually; 5.9% of adults ages 45 to 64 practice meditation, as do 13.4% of people aged either 18-to-44 or 65-and-over.
So in a meditation VS medication showdown, which should you choose?
There is evidence to suggest that meditation is as effective as medication for depression. In January of 2020, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published research that shows that meditation provides as much relief as antidepressants for some of the symptoms of depression (but importantly, not all). . Dr. Madhav Goyal of the John Hopkins School of Medicine said that mindfulness meditation is the most effective meditation for depression.
So, meditation doesn’t cure all the symptoms of depression, but medication is riskier.
Therefore, when it comes to meditation vs antidepressants, it seems like neither is perfect. Because on the one-hand, meditation can help and does not have nearly as many side-effects as meds. But there are some symptoms of depression that meidtation is not suitable for. And, on the other hand we have meds, which certainly can be a cure for some people, but which also have a long list of side-effects.
So, meditation or antidepressants?
Honestly, why choose? We don’t need to look at this as a case of meditation VS antidepressants. There is no reason why we cannot use meditation while on antidepressants, and thereby take advantage of both.
Using Meditation and Antidepressants Together
The UK National Institute For Health And Care Excellence [NICE] suggests using a combination of both medication and psychological therapy and that patient preference matters. Specific recommendations from NICE include mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy [MBCBT], which is a method devised by Zinde Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale that combines CBT with traditional mindfulness.
A multi-center study published in the Lancet, using research conducted by the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford, showed that mindfulness helps people with a history of depression to manage their thoughts, but that it is not more effective than medication .
Another study, published in The British Journal of Psychology showed that people who stopped taking medication after doing MBCBT had higher risk of depression relapse than those who continued medication 
These studies suggest that meditation should not replace antidepressants, but that there are nonetheless benefits of meditation. So why not do both?
Medication can help us escape the cycle of depressive feelings. This gives the mind a break and the opportunity to objectively observe those feelings and emotions. Meditation and mindfulness, then, help us to see our thoughts and feelings more clearly and thereby to work on them for long-term mental health gains.
We need to stop looking at things as a case of meditation VS antidepressants and start using both these tools together.
Why meds and mindfulness go together
When Buddhism came to the West many psychotherapists at first dismissed it as spiritual hoodoo. But as time has gone on, meditation and psychotherapy have gradually become more closely intertwined, largely thanks to the work of psychologist and Buddhist Jack Kornfield, who in 1993 wrote the elucidating article “Even the Best Meditators Have Old Wounds to Heal: Combining Meditation and Psychotherapy” .
Today, in 2020, the two work hand-in-hand. Meditation teachers are now happy to suggest psychotherapy to their students when need be, and psychotherapists often advise patients to start meditating. One of the biggest steps forward was with Jon Kabat Zinn’ “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction”, which has grown from being a pain-management techniques to a nearly all-encompassing solution to many of the problems of the human mind.
What seems to be the most successful way of combining psychotherapy and meditation is by using the unique strengths of each. Medication enables the depressed mind to relax to a degree where the individual can start to observe their mind objectively. Meditation then enhances that awareness to enable the individual to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings and, from there, change them.
Many diehard spiritualists argue that medication has no place on the spiritual path. But for me, this is nothing but hyperbole. If those diehard spiritualists experienced the pain of clinical depression, I am quite certain they would soon change their perspective on medication. Besides, this exclusivist attitude is not enlightened. It is ignorant. To deny a person their own spiritual path because they have a mental heath condition that requires medicating is sheer ignorance. The enlightened view is to recognise the benefits of both medication and meditation and to administer one or both (or neither) as you so choose.
If Antidepressants don’t work, meditation might
Medication sometimes does not work.
A study published in the journal Molecular Psychology suggests that Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRI’s), which are the most commonly prescribed form of antidepressants, are ineffective for around 30% of people who take them. That’s a staggering number of people looking for an alternative solution.
If antidepressants do not work, meditation might.
A randomised pilot study showed that for people who have major depressive disorder (MDD) who do not respond to antidepressants, meditation could be an effective intervention. The study looked specifically at Sudarshan Kriya yoga, which is a form of yogic breathing meditation.
It’s time we stopped looking from the point of view of meditation VS antidepressants. Reality is, neither solution is 100% foolproof. Neither solution is perfect for everyone. And neither solution is entirely safe, either.
A more enlightened perspective is to consider the benefits of both these approaches to depression. Both antidepressants and meditation have their own unique pros and cons. The enlightened perspective is to accept both solutions for what they are, and to consider ways in which both solutions can be used together to form a stronger therapy than either can achieve on their own.