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.