Psychologists and neuroscientists from Oxford University and University College London (UCL) are planning an unprecedented trial of the influence of mindfulness meditation on mental health, The Guardian newspaper has reported.
Prof. William Kuyken. From Oxford Mail
They plan to recruit children aged 11 to 16 from 76 secondary schools to join a seven-year study that they describe as the largest trial of its kind ever conducted on the efficacy of mindfulness meditation in tackling illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
The Wellcome Trust is funding the £6.4m study, the results of which will be watched by policymakers. In January, a cross-party committee of members of Britain’s parliament found frontline public servants could be less likely to fall ill from stress if they practiced mindfulness, and there have already been minor trials among nurses, managers, and schoolchildren.
Leading the study is Willem Kuyken, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University. He noted that the trial would focus on children partly because of evidence that half of all mental health disorders begin before the age of 15.
Prof. Sarah-Jane Blakemore. From qas.org
From next year, 3,200 children aged from 11–14 years will be trained in secular mindfulness techniques in a 10-week course involving a 30-minute weekly lesson and up to 20 minutes’ daily practice at home. They will be taught simple techniques, such as the “7/11” breathing exercise (breathing in for 7 seconds and out for 11) or walking meditation. Another 3,200 will receive standard personal, health, and social education lessons. Over the following two years, both groups will be monitored for their susceptibility to depression and associated mental disorders.
Neuroscientists led by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at UCL will test another 600 11- to 16-year-olds before and after mindfulness training to observe how it has affected self-control and emotional regulation. Some will have their brain activity scanned while others will respond to computerized tests. Blakemore said the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, self-control, emotion regulation, and self-awareness, undergoes a substantial reorganization in early adolescence. She wants to find out exactly when during this period mindfulness has the greatest effect.
“The brain is susceptible to negative and stressful environments and that might be one reason why we see an increase in the development of mental illnesses in early adolescence,” she said. “But the brain is also susceptible to interventions which improve resilience, which we are hoping includes mindfulness.” (The Guardian)
The trial aims to study the benefits of mindfulness meditation among teenagers. From awakeyouth.org
“If you look around you in any public space . . . every fifth person you see will be directly affected by depression in their lifetime,” says Prof. Kuyken on the broader benefits of mindfulness. “. . . We hear a lot about mindfulness, but what is it and how can it help people with recurrent depression? Mindfulness is an awareness, underpinned by ethics, that enables us to engage with the world in ways that are more compassionate and responsive.” (Oxford Mail)
Paula Kearney, a geography teacher at UCL Academy in North London, has taught mindfulness to pupils and said that despite initial reluctance to take part by some, their self-awareness had increased.
“In doing that they become more compassionate and understanding and develop better friendships,” she said. (The Guardian)
One of the pupils she has taught is Haroon Hussein, 13. “There are bad influences in many parts of the city and many people my age are joining gangs, smoking and you might be curious to find out what’s going on,” he said. “But taking a moment to step back and do a mindful exercise and see what the outcomes and problems might be instead of rushing in can help. It stops you being impulsive.” (The Guardian)