Mindfulness Shown to Decrease Anxiety in School Children

A study recently conducted by Professor Willem Kuyken from the University of Exeter, in association with the University of Oxford and the Mindfulness in Schools Project, has found evidence that mindfulness can reduce stress and depression among school children, while simultaneously promoting feelings of well-being.
Mindfulness is a mental training technique used to sustain attention in a specific way, and which can change the way a person thinks, acts, and feels.  It has been well documented that mindfulness-based approaches for adults are effective at enhancing mental health and well-being, but few controlled trials have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of mindfulness for young people.
The study involved 522 pupils between ages 12 and 16 years old, from twelve different secondary schools.  256 of the pupils were taught mindfulness techniques as part of the school's curriculum, while the other 266 were not taught mindfulness.  The mindfulness class was a nine week introduction to mindfulness specifically designed to be easy for kids to understand.
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."
All the pupils were followed up after a three month period.  
Researchers found that the children in the mindfulness program reported fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress, and greater overall well-being than the young people in the control group.  
Encouragingly, around 80% of the school children said they continued using practices taught in the mindfulness curriculum after completing the nine week program.  Teachers and schools 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 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 -- 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 randomized controlled trial into the MiSP curriculum, involving more schools, pupils and longer follow-ups."
Perhaps we will see more studies in the future confirming the idea that implementing a mindfulness-based program in schools could prove effective for reducing childhood anxiety and depression problems, and further allowing them to succeed in their future schooling and careers.
Published 8/16/2013

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