Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a stressful condition. Mental health comorbidity is common. Stress can increase the risk of depression, reduce quality of life (QOL), and possibly exacerbate disease activity in MS. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) may help, but has been little studied in MS, particularly among more disabled individuals.
The objective of this study was to test the feasibility and likely effectiveness of a standard MBSR course for people with MS. Participant eligibility included: age > 18, any type of MS, an Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) </= 7.0. Participants received either MBSR or wait-list control. Outcome measures were collected at baseline, post-intervention, and three-months later. Primary outcomes were perceived stress and QOL. Secondary outcomes were common MS symptoms, mindfulness, and self-compassion.
Fifty participants were recruited and randomised (25 per group). Trial retention and outcome measure completion rates were 90% at post-intervention, and 88% at 3 months. Sixty percent of participants completed the course. Immediately post-MBSR, perceived stress improved with a large effect size (ES 0.93; p < 0.01), compared to very small beneficial effects on QOL (ES 0.17; p = 0.48). Depression (ES 1.35; p < 0.05), positive affect (ES 0.87; p = 0.13), anxiety (ES 0.85; p = 0.05), and self-compassion (ES 0.80; p < 0.01) also improved with large effect sizes. At three-months post-MBSR (study endpoint) improvements in perceived stress were diminished to a small effect size (ES 0.26; p = 0.39), were negligible for QOL (ES 0.08; p = 0.71), but were large for mindfulness (ES 1.13; p < 0.001), positive affect (ES 0.90; p = 0.54), self-compassion (ES 0.83; p < 0.05), anxiety (ES 0.82; p = 0.15), and prospective memory (ES 0.81; p < 0.05).
Recruitment, retention, and data collection demonstrate that a RCT of MBSR is feasible for people with MS. Trends towards improved outcomes suggest that a larger definitive RCT may be warranted. However, optimisation changes may be required to render more stable the beneficial treatment effects on stress and depression.