Innovative Oxford University depression centre aims to expand

thisisoxfordshire: Professor Mark Williams Buy this photo Professor Mark Williams

A CENTRE that uses ancient meditation techniques to combat depression is aiming to raise £500,000 to expand.

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre – part of Oxford University’s department of psychiatry – teaches Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, a type of mental training.

Developed by Professor Mark Williams and colleagues in the 1990s, it has had the backing of the NHS through GP referrals since 2004.

Research at Oxford University shows it can reduce stress and prevent relapses in people who suffer from depression, by using breathing exercises and pauses in daily routines to re-focus the person’s attention to the present.

Donations will fund research into treatment of adolescent depression, bipolar disorders and workplace stress, as well more trained instructors and classes for the public.

Prof Williams, founder of the centre and fellow of Linacre College, said: “Mindfulness just means awareness and it can vastly improve your experience of life.

“It draws on practices that are often associated with religion, from thousands of years ago, but this is secular.

“It gives people more mental space and allows them to put stress and other mental issues into perspective.”

The technique can be used to identify mental problems as they occur, he said, and this can help tackle recurring bouts of depression.

But, he stressed, it is used as a preventative measure, rather than a primary treatment such as cognitive therapy or anti-depressants.

From its base at the Warneford Hospital, on Warneford Lane, the centre runs three public classes and four NHS classes that people have been referred to, in addition to private courses.

About 200 people come through its doors each week. It also offers an online course.

But, he stressed, it is used as a preventative measure, rather than a primary treatment such as cognitive therapy or anti-depressants.

From its base at the Warneford Hospital, on Warneford Lane, the centre runs three public classes and four NHS classes that people have been referred to, in addition to private courses. About 200 people come through its doors each week. It also offers an online course.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group estimates more than 60,000 children and adults a year in the county suffer from moderate anxiety and depression.

Midwives at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital have also been working with the centre since 2009, training to teach the technique to new parents to help deal with the stresses that come with having a baby.

In an article for the British Journal of Midwifery in 2012, JR consultant Dr Sian Warriner said it would continue the “innovative work” in its antenatal programmes.

Prof Williams said he first decided to specialise in the treatment of depression in the 1970s because of the “silence” of those afflicted.

He said: “People do not complain, they just feel guilty, because they do not see it the same way they see a heart condition or an eye condition.

“And yet, it can destroy lives. We need to make people realise they can ask for help and there is a way forward.”

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