A new study suggests a particular type of mental training can help to reduce stress and depression among school age children.
UK researchers found that mindfulness training, a technique that develops sustained attention that can change the ways people think, act and feel, is an effective method to promote wellness in school kids.
Mindfulness is a technique gaining popularity among adults for enhancing health and well-being. However, very few controlled trials have evaluated their effectiveness among young people.
School is ending for many school kids, a time of high stress as children prepare to take final examinations and other qualifying tests.
As discussed in the study, found online in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that interventions to reduce stress in children have the biggest impact at this time of year.
In the current study, researchers led by Willem Kuyken, Ph.D., recruited 522 pupils, aged between 12 and 16 years, from 12 secondary schools to take part in the study.
Then, 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 program reported fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and greater wellbeing than the young people in the control group.
Researchers were encouraged that around 80 percent of the young people said they continued using practices taught in MiSP’s mindfulness curriculum after completing the nine week program.
Teachers and schools also rated the curriculum as worthwhile and very enjoyable to learn and teach.
Lead researcher 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 program had fewer low-grade depressive symptoms, both immediately after completing the program 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.
“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 randomized controlled trial into the MiSP curriculum, involving more schools, pupils and longer follow-ups.”
Felicia Huppert, Ph.D., 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.”
Source: University of Exeter