Mindfulness May Ease Depression, Stress in Poor Black Women

Mindfulness training may help alleviate symptoms of depression and stress in African-American women with lower socio-economic status, according to a new pilot study by researchers at Northwestern Medicine.

It is well-established that poor black women have an increased risk of depressive disorders. However, they rarely seek out antidepressants or psychotherapy due to negative attitudes and stigma associated with conventional mental health treatments. Mindfulness may provide an effective alternative to these conventional treatments.

“Many women are in need of help with their depression and coping with daily life, but they don’t seek it out because of limited access to high-quality mental health services and the stigma within their families and communities,” said lead researcher Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“Our study shows that there are alternatives to traditional mental health treatment, such as mind-body approaches, that effectively alleviate symptoms, and can be done autonomously in the comfort of their own home.”

The study involving 31 black women is the first to test the effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions among disadvantaged women with depression in a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which provides comprehensive community-based medical care to low-income individuals.

Over the course of the 16-week study, the participants experienced a decrease in their average depressive symptoms and stress scores and reported greater feelings of well-being. They were also better able to recognize stressful triggers in their lives, notice how their bodies react to triggers, and learn how to take control of their physiological responses to stress.

“It felt good to be in control of my emotions for the first time in my life,” one participant said.

Another said, “We are always superwomen [and] we have to be able to do everything, and that brings out a lot of stress. …This helped me to reorganize and put [these stressful events] in the proper perspective and understand I have an opportunity to learn how to calm myself down and recognize what is going on.”

The mindfulness techniques Burnett-Zeigler teaches include sitting meditation, yoga, mental body scans and taking a mindful pause to be in the moment. The participants are encouraged to increase their awareness of everyday activities, such as taking a shower or drinking a cup of coffee.

“These practices help them take a step back and live in the moment versus worrying about what’s already happened or what’s to come,” Burnett-Zeigler said. “People who are depressed or who have depressive symptoms often have tunnel vision, whereby they’re only seeing information in the environment that supports their negative beliefs.”

In addition to the guided sessions at the clinic, the women were encouraged to engage in daily practice at home. On average, participants practiced meditation, yoga, and mental body scans four days per week and spent an average of 2.5 hours practicing a week.

Before the study, 45 percent of the women reported no prior experience with meditation, and 71 percent reported no past experience with yoga. Although all of the women who took part in the study reported symptoms of depression, 87 percent had not received any mental health treatment in the past year.

Burnett-Zeigler said there is great potential to expand mindfulness-based interventions nationally based on this growing need to provide low-cost, effective mental health services in community-based settings. She plans to conduct more research aimed at examining the feasibility of national implementation and dissemination.

The findings are published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Source: Northwestern University