1. The word on everyone's lips

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere – TV, radio and in every Sunday newspaper. It promises to be everything from a cure for depression to a way to improve your sex life.

Put simply, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment. It draws on eastern meditation traditions and was introduced as a clinical therapy in the 1970s by American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. Therapeutically, it trains people to focus their minds and understand that negative thoughts may come and go.

I want to know whether the science backs up the claims – and whether it's worth giving a try.

2. What is it good for?

It's claimed that mindfulness can improve each of these things. Which are backed by scientific evidence?

Pain

Pain

Some evidence

A study of 342 people with back pain showed mindfulness-based therapy can help reduce pain more effectively than standard treatments such as painkillers.

Anxiety

Anxiety

Mounting evidence

Dozens of studies suggest mindfulness-based approaches can help with anxiety, such as panic disorder or generalised anxiety disorder.

Sex life

Sex life

Not yet proven

Imaging studies have shown mindfulness activates parts of the brain that deal with physical sensations, but there is insufficient evidence of its effect on sex.

Depression

Depression

Strong evidence

A 2014 review of 47 studies found mindfulness-based therapy to be as effective as medication in treating recurrent depression (three or more previous episodes).

3. Effectiveness in depression

Graph showing effectiveness of mindfulness

Adapted from Kuyken et al., Lancet 2015.

Participants in this study had a history of depression (three or more previous episodes) and were at risk of it recurring. They were not clinically depressed at the start of the study. The lines show the proportions who remained depression-free while on treatment.

4. WATCH: How to do it

The clinical form of mindfulness-based therapy is led by professionals. It's usually an eight week course. But most of us can incorporate mindfulness techniques into our everyday lives. Prof Willem Kuyken suggests how you could give it a try.

People with current depression, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance dependence should speak to a healthcare professional before trying mindfulness.

5. VOTE: Could it work for you?

Are you convinced enough by the evidence to give mindfulness a try?

Could it work for you?
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Here are the results:

  • Yes, I think it could help me

    49%
    49%
  • No, I’m not convinced it will work

    18%
    18%
  • I already practice mindfulness

    27%
    27%
  • I don’t need it

    6%
    6%