School Children Taught Mindfulness Suffer Reduced Stress
- Mindfulness - a mental training that develops sustained
attention that can change the ways people think, act and feel -
could reduce symptoms of stress and depression and promote
wellbeing among school children, according to a new study
published online by the British Journal of Psychiatry.
With the summer exam season in full swing, school children
are currently experiencing higher levels of stress than at any
other time of year. The research showed that interventions to
reduce stress in children have the biggest impact at this time
of year. There is growing evidence that mindfulness-based
approaches for adults are effective at enhancing mental health
and wellbeing. However, very few controlled trials have
evaluated their effectiveness among young people.
A team of researchers led by Professor Willem Kuyken from
the University of Exeter, in association with the University
of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the Mindfulness in
Schools Project, recruited 522 pupils, aged between 12 and
16 years, from 12 secondary schools to take part in the study.
256 pupils at six of the schools were taught the Mindfulness
in Schools Project's curriculum, a nine week introduction
to mindfulness designed for the classroom.
Richard Burnett who co-created the curriculum said: "Our
mindfulness curriculum aims to engage even the most cynical
of adolescent audience with the basics of mindfulness. We
use striking visuals, film clips and activities to bring it to
life without losing the expertise and integrity of
classic mindfulness teaching".
The other 266 pupils at the other six schools did not receive
the mindfulness lessons, and acted as a control group.
All the pupils were followed up after a three month period.
The follow-up was timed to coincide with the summer exam
period - which is a potential time of high stress for young
people. The researchers found that those children who participated
in the mindfulness programme reported fewer depressive
symptoms, lower stress and greater wellbeing than the young people
in the control group. Encouragingly, around 80% of the young
people said they continued using practices taught in
MiSP's mindfulness curriculum after completing the nine
week programme. Teachers and schools also rated the curriculum
as worthwhile and very enjoyable to learn and teach.
Lead researcher Professor Kuyken said: "Our findings provide promising evidence of the effectiveness of MiSP's curriculum.
We found that those young people who took part in the programme
had fewer low-grade depressive symptoms, both immediately
after completing the programme and at three-month follow-up. This
is potentially a very important finding, given that low-grade depressive symptoms can impair a child's performance at school, and are also a risk factor for developing adolescent and adult depression."
Professor Katherine Weare, who has been instrumental in promoting
the teaching of resilience in schools, said: "These findings
are likely to be of great interest to our overstretched schools
who are trying to find simple, cost effective and engaging ways
to promote the resilience of their students - and of their staff
too - at times when adolescence is becoming increasingly
challenging, staff under considerable stress, and schools under
a good deal of pressure to deliver on all fronts. This
study demonstrates that mindfulness shows great promise in
promoting wellbeing and reducing problems - which is in line
with our knowledge of how helpful well designed and implemented social and emotional learning can be. The next step is to carry
out a randomised controlled trial into the MiSP curriculum,
involving more schools, pupils and longer follow-ups."
Professor Felicia Huppert of the University of Cambridge said:
"The findings also support the argument that mindfulness training
can enhance the psychological well-being of all pupils, not
just those who have symptoms associated with common mental
health problems. Psychological well-being has been linked to
better learning, social relationships and academic performance,
so the enhancement of well-being is likely to improve a range
of outcomes in the school context."
Mindfulness is a form of mental training that develops sustained attention. Rather than simply allowing the mind to wander and worry, mindfulness training involves cultivating the capacity to 'attend to' whatever is happening in ways that are purposeful and well-balanced. The ability to be 'in the present moment' releases the mind from habitual, ruminative patterns that lead to worry, depression and burn-out, and enables more intuitive and creative responses to new challenges. Given the centrality of attention in all mental functioning, such training has significant implications for mental and physical health, self-regulation and education.
Contemporary approaches to mindfulness are rooted in contemplative traditions dating more than 2000 years. In the 1970s Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a programme called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction that teaches people with a range of physical conditions mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and enhance well-being. Since then mindfulness-based programmes have helped tens of thousands of people with chronic physical and mental health problems to relieve distress and enhance well-being. Ongoing research in Cambridge, Exeter and Oxford is examining mindfulness approaches for people with recurrent depression, suicadality and a range of physical health problems.
This work was led by Professors Willem Kuyken and Katherine Weare at the University of Exeter and Professor Felicia Huppert at the University of Cambridge in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Mindfulness in Schools Project, a non-profit organisation whose aim is to encourage, support and research the teaching of secular mindfulness in schools. The Mindfulness in Schools Project website provides further context and information about the programme http://mindfulnessinschools.org/
University of Exeter
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