Young people’s mental health: Mindfulness training is not the answer, UK study finds

However, a UK-based research project, the largest of its kind on the subject, has suggested that mindfulness training in schools may be a dead end – at least as a universal, one-size-fits-all approach.

The study, which involved 28,000 children, 650 teachers and 100 schools, looked at the impact of mindfulness training over an eight-year period and found that the technique did not help mental health and the well-being of adolescents aged 11 to 14 years. The authors suggested investigating other options for improving adolescent mental health.

“Adolescence is an absolutely crucial developmental period,” said Willem Kuyken, professor of mindfulness and psychological sciences at the Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation at Oxford University and one of the main researchers involved. in the project. “The brain undergoes significant and fundamental changes in adolescence that define the trajectory of people’s lives.”

Adults at risk for depression benefit from learning mindfulness skills, previous studies have shown, and researchers hoped that giving young people these skills in early adolescence would be a way to quell mental health issues in the egg. And schools, where young people spend most of their waking lives, were seen as the ideal place to impart these skills without stigma.

Mindfulness training involves learning to pay attention, be in the moment, understand and manage feelings and behaviors to better cope with stress and promote good mental health.

“There has been a lot of interest (from) policy makers in this over the last 10 years, and the general message we have given to policy makers is: be careful and careful, because the enthusiasm outweighs evidence,” said Mark Williams. , Emeritus Professor and Founding Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Center at the University of Oxford, during a press briefing.

The five studies were published Tuesday in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health.

Lack of student engagement

In a randomized controlled trial — considered the gold standard of scientific research — 41 schools continued the social-emotional learning that was already part of the standard school curriculum for students aged 11 to 14, while teachers at 41 other schools received training in teaching mindfulness, giving students 10 lessons of 30 to 50 minutes. The program had already been found to be effective in some smaller studies.

There was no evidence that school-based mindfulness training was superior to usual education in preventing mental health problems after one year. And for those with existing mental health issues, research has indicated it may make difficulties worse, suggesting future research should explore different approaches for different children – although there have been no serious adverse outcomes. .

After the initial course, the mindfulness program improved teachers’ mental health and reduced burnout, while improving certain dimensions of school culture such as leadership involvement, a respectful atmosphere, and positive attitudes toward learning. ‘education. However, after a year, these effects had all but disappeared. The course has been designed to be taken over one term for children in the first or second year of secondary school. There was no other specific mindfulness teaching as part of the study.

Analyzing their data, the researchers found that the technique worked better with the older children involved in the study than with the younger cohort. However, the study team said many of the children involved simply did not like the mindfulness training.

“Most students didn’t commit to the program. On average, they only practiced once in 10 weeks of classes. And that’s like going to the gym once and hoping you’ll be in good shape. But why didn’t they practice? Why? Because a lot of them found it boring,” Williams said.

The researchers suggested that peer-based approaches to teaching mindfulness might be a better alternative (like having older students lead the lessons) in addition to using things like sports, art, games computers and music as vehicles to teach these skills. The team also highlighted the importance of considering systemic issues such as deprivation and inequality when seeking to improve young people’s mental health.

“Instead of giving kids ways to improve their mental training, maybe we need to design schools so that the whole school, the climate and the culture of a school actually support healthy mental well-being of young people,” Kuyken said in the briefing.

As part of the research project, the team also reviewed and analyzed 66 other randomized controlled trials of mindfulness programs involving 20,100 young people. Researchers found that mindfulness programs resulted in small improvements in mindfulness skills, attention, self-control, antisocial behavior, anxiety, and stress, but the benefits were not sustained over time. year later.

“Disappointing” results

For schools and teachers who found mindfulness skills useful, the advice was to keep going.

“We’re not saying all mindfulness training has to stop. But schools need to look and see how it’s received in your school. Students are often the best experts on what works for them in this area. kids in your school enjoy it? Do they say they get anything out of it? If so, you have something worth keeping. sharpens, mindfulness begins to change the school climate and reduce teacher burnout, these things are important in their own right,” Williams said.

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Dan O’Hare, co-vice-president of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology, said it was important that mental health support was tailored to each child and to his situation. The British Psychological Society is co-owner of the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health.

“It’s important not to view mindfulness sessions as a panacea, and as a ‘plug and play’ product that can simply help teens and their teachers become ‘more resilient’, without appreciating all the other factors influential, such as the school environment,” O’Hare, who was not involved in the research, said in a press release.

Dame Til Wykes, professor and director of the School of Mental Health and Psychological Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said the results were disappointing.

“Despite the potential for teaching mindfulness in secondary schools, this rigorous trial shows no overall benefit for adolescents. This is disappointing as there had been some hope for an easy fix, especially for those who could develop depression,” she told Science Media. Central London.

“The only optimistic aspect of the study was its positive effects on the teachers. One would assume that this was because the techniques were personally beneficial to the teachers or they were happy to have an intervention to offer their students. .”


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